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The Gun Toting Cop

During my six years in Mexico, I had several encounters with the police which were disappointing, though I had many more which were gratifying.

To understand the incident I am about to relate, you must first know about another. I had been in Ensenada for about a month when one night I made a U-turn in a commercial district. There was a policeman right behind me. After pulling me over, he came up to my car, and we went through the ticket-giving ritual. After the officer had handed the ticket to me, he said I could pay the fine to him. 

"Fine," I said. "And you'll give me a receipt, right?"

"Well, no," he said with a coy smile.

"OK, let's go to the station. I'll pay there."

He then went back to his car, put on some flashing lights, and led me to a station. Once we were inside, where he took me to a desk manned by four or five clerks.

I went up to one of them who immediately asked me in Spanish if I could speak Spanish.

"Solamente un poquito," I answered.

"How can I help you?" he then asked me with a very good American English accent.

"I want to pay a ticket."

"Would you like to see a magistrate?" he asked.

"How much is the ticket?"

"250 pesos."

That being about 20 dollars at the time, I answered with considerable relief, "No, that's fine. I'll just pay it."

The clerk took my money and gave me a receipt.

Then he said, "Listen, anytime a policeman stops you, you tell him you want to see a magistrate. The magistrate will often cut the fine in half. Also, _never_ pay the fine to a policeman. And if you offer to do it, you could end up in jail."

A few months later, I was out in the boonies south of Ensenada looking for a place to windsurf. I had pulled off the road and was studying my GPS map when I heard a car pull up behind me. Looking in my rearview mirror, I saw that it was a police car and that a policeman with a very copious and trim black mustache was getting out of it. As he approached my car, he undid the strap of his holster with his left hand and took the gun -- a big, nasty looking thing -- halfway out of the holster. With his hand wrapped around the handle of the gun, he came up to my window.

"What are you doing here?" he asked in Spanish.

"Looking for a place to windsurf," I answered in Spanish.

"There is no place to windsurf around here," he said.

"What about out there?" I pointed to some water about a mile distant from us.

"No, not possible."

"Why?"

"No beach."

"Well, do you mind if I go there? There may be a place to launch anyway. I don't need sand to launch."

"Why don't you go up to Estero Beach?" Estero Beach was a resort nearby and had a nice beach to launch from. I had used it many times.

"Because they want ten bucks to launch there. Besides, I'd like to sail on another part of the river."

He stared at me for a minute or so and then said, "You know, you seem very suspicious to me."

"Suspicious? Me? Why do you say that?"

"It seems to me possible that you have come here to rob," he replied in a tone of voice which was both somber and accusing.

"What makes you think that?"

He paused a bit to puzzle on my question.

Keep in mind that through this whole conversation, the policeman has got his left hand wrapped around the handle of the gun sticking out of his holster.

By this time, I was getting the feeling that the man was after money, and I began remembering a conversation I had had a few months previously with someone who worked in Ensenada's court system. Among other things, we discussed the situation with the police in Ensenada and their efforts to shake down gringos. One result of our discussion was his request that if it ever happened to me, I should get the badge number of the policeman and file a complaint. He also told me that if a policeman was found guilty of extortion, he would be fired and would never again be able to work as a policeman in Mexico. But I didn't look at this one's badge. Despite his manner towards me, he struck me as a kind person with probably a large family and someone whom I would not want to injure. 

Finally, with his hand still on his gun, the man asked me, "How long have you been in Mexico?" 

"A few months," I answered.

"And why did you come to this particular area to look for a launching place?"

"It's the first road to the south of the turnoff for Estero Beach. This is the first time I've looked for another place to launch."

"This seems very suspicious to me."

At this point I was getting impatient, so I said, "Listen, let's go to a magistrate's office to continue this discussion."

"Why do you want to go to a magistrate's office?" he asked in a tone of voice which suggested that I had suddenly gone insane

"Because you are saying I'm suspicious."

"I didn't say that. I only said that you _seemed_ suspicious."

"Listen, I'm not going to talk with you any further until we are before a magistrate."

With this I slumped back into my car seat and began looking at the horizon, which by this time was showing the colors of an approaching sunset.

"You have to answer my questions," he blurted.

"That's correct, but I also have the right to require that your questions be asked in front of a magistrate. You know that." I was kind of bluffing. I didn't know for sure that I had the right to restrict his questioning in any way. 

His face grew clouded and frustrated as he holstered his gun and put the strap in place. 
Then, without remark, he walked back to his car, fired it up, made a U-turn, and headed for the highway. I then drove toward the water and found a good place to launch from. Unfortunately, it was now almost dark, so I too returned to the highway. As I drove towards town, I saw a police car pulled up near a taco stand and by the taco stand I saw the same policeman. As I drove by, I slowed a bit and honked. He turned and saw me. I gave him the peace sign. With a smile, he returned it.

I must say out of respect for the man that he never suggested that I had broken the law, nor did he hint that he wanted money from me. And as I write this I realize that my suspicion that he was after money was perhaps unreasonable and that his concern may well have been simply to protect the residents of the area.

Tom Arnall
December 8, 2018