January 20, 2011 / 10:44 PM / 9 years ago

Police clowns tell Mexican children crime is no joke

MONTERREY, Mexico (Reuters) - Two policeman dressed as clowns are trying to instill values into children in Mexico’s richest city, Monterrey, where drug cartels are fighting a vicious turf war and recruiting teenage assassins.

Amid jokes, police officers Tomas and Alexandro put on makeup to portray Bombon Dulcito (“Little Sweetie”) and Trompetillas (“the Trumpeter”), an unusual sight in a country where police are constantly accused of corruption and infiltration by gangs.

Mexico is immersed in a fight against drug cartels in which traffickers have taken advantage of a lack of jobs to urge young people to join them with the offer of easy money.

Last month, soldiers captured a 14-year-old suspected of killing at least seven people.

“We are focusing on the future generations,” said Tomas, an officer in the San Nicolas municipality of Monterrey, part the city 140 miles from Texas.

Two years ago, Tomas and Alexandro set aside their guns and official uniforms in favor of wigs and enormous shoes after they realized that children were not paying attention during their visits to schools and, in some cases, were afraid of them.

Now, with the clowns’ make-up and comedy performances, children say they are no longer scared when they hear the approaching siren of a squad car.

Occasionally, the police clowns, both of whom asked that their family names not be published for security reasons, also arrest people committing minor crimes and raising eyebrows along the way.

“We have to go to the children so that this generation of kids can get out of bad habits and a healthy generation arrives,” Thomas said as his colleagues collected evidence in front of the police station, where assailants detonated a car full of explosives on Tuesday.

Monterrey, where income per head is double Mexico’s average, has been sucked into the country’s fight against drug gangs, with more than 70 people killed in drug violence in the city and its environs since New Year’s Day.

Across Mexico, more than 34,000 people have died in drug violence since December 2006, when President Felipe Calderon sent the military to fight the cartels. The government says the violence is a signal that the gangs are weakening.

Writing by Mike McDonald; editing by Chris Wilson

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