By Eduard Ribas i Admetlla
Mexico City, Apr 14 (efe-epa).- Retail establishments in shopping districts across Mexico are boarding up storefronts and paying for additional security guards amid fears that the country’s coronavirus-triggered economic paralysis will lead to a sharp increase in theft.
“Crime has definitely increased. Opportunistic people have taken advantage of the Covid-19 crisis to loot and try to carry out robberies,” Jose Luis Calderon, vice president of the Mexican Association of Private Security Businesses (AMESP), told Efe on Tuesday.
In Mexico City alone, the district attorney’s office charged 79 people with the robbery of commercial establishments between March 23 and April 6, 32 of whom are currently in pre-trial detention.
Looting also has occurred in other parts of the country such as the central state of Mexico, which surrounds the capital, where organized groups of up to 70 people have robbed supermarkets and department stores after coordinating via social media.
“We were able to detect the theft of cellphones, appliances, liquor, cigarettes and non-essential merchandise,” Calderon said.
After meetings with business representatives, authorities in the capital launched an operation that involves 6,200 officers and 2,900 police vehicles and will last until the conclusion of the health emergency in Mexico, where as of Tuesday there have been 5,014 confirmed coronavirus cases and 332 Covid-19-related deaths.
But similar crimes have occurred elsewhere in Mexico and also targeted other sectors.
Last week, the National Water Commission (Conagua) said water infrastructure has been the target of acts of vandalism and theft that have affected the distribution of that essential resource in different parts of Mexico.
The murder rate also remains virtually unchanged at 80 homicides per day, according to official figures, even though people nationwide have been asked – though not required – to stay at home due to the coronavirus threat.
Private security companies, meanwhile, are forecasting that the situation will deteriorate further in the coming weeks in Mexico, where a March 31 resolution issued by the country’s health secretary ordered a halt to all non-essential business activities until the end of this month.
According to Calderon, the job destruction and income loss stemming from efforts to stem the spread of the novel coronavirus will cause “complicated conditions and disruptive effects that will need to be mitigated.”
“They’ve asked us (private security firms) to bolster protections across many services, provide a larger number of security guards and install systems” that better safeguard goods and property, he said.
AMESP, an association of companies that provide security for stores, supermarkets, restaurants, banks, homes, ports and airports, has coordinated closely with authorities such as the Public Security Secretariat of Mexico City to confront this situation.
Local police and private security guards on Mexico City’s nearly empty commercial streets have been carrying out joint efforts to protect stores, many of which are padlocked and even boarded up.
But the security measures go beyond additional guards and include other areas such as cybersecurity – a key priority at a time when most person-to-person interactions are taking place via video conferences or text messages.
“Expectations are we’ll start seeing cyber extortion and data theft. This is being forecast not only in Mexico but worldwide,” said Calderon, who noted the alleged vulnerability to hackers of San Jose, California-based Zoom Video Communications Inc.’s popular videoconferencing app.
In the area of freight transport, theft of truck cargo and tractor-trailers had fallen over the past year on Mexican roads and highways, but that sector now is forecasting an increase in these crimes of between 30 percent and 50 percent and expects that vehicles transporting food and personal-care products will be targeted in particular.
“Job losses will create greater demand in informal markets, where basic products (that are stolen or pirated) are purchased at lower prices,” Victor Manuel Presichi, president of the National Association of Vehicular Tracking and Protection Companies (ANERPV), told Efe.
Most cargo theft on highways occurs when the driver stops to eat, refuel or pay a toll or is involved in an accident.