Police protected by hotels in Cuidad Juarez

From Edgar Roman, For CNN

Ciudad Juarez, Mexico (CNN) — In this violence-plagued border city, officials are stepping up security — for police.

Officers, under increasing threats from criminal groups, will be housed in hotels and other secure areas of the city, Ciudad Juarez Mayor Hector Murguia said Monday.

Police will also be allowed to keep weapons with them, even when they’re off the clock, he said.

The mayor’s announcement of the new measures came after a rash of attacks on police after they finish their shifts.

On Saturday, gunmen killed an unarmed police officer who had just arrived home after leaving work, officials said. He was the eighth police officer slain in a month, authorities said.

“I decided they could carry their weapons because they were attacking them on their way home. We decided to give them quarters because it has reached an unacceptable number of police (that have been killed),” Murguia said.

The hotel stays could last for up to three months, he said.

Officials did not release details of the police housing plans, citing security concerns.

Ciudad Juarez resident Daniel Mora applauded the decision.

“It seems like the right thing for their security, so they can feel safer,” he said.

Banners hanging throughout the city earlier this month warned that a police officer would be killed daily until the city’s police chief resigns. Authorities have said they believe a drug cartel is behind them.

But Police Chief Julian Leyzaola has pledged to continue a crackdown on crime.

“We have to show them that they can’t put themselves above society or above the law. They are criminals and they must be segregated, segregated in a prison or kept in a cemetery, but they cannot go around intimidating people and holding society hostage,” he said last week.

Leyzaola has been police chief in Ciudad Juarez since March 2011.

The city, which borders El Paso, Texas, has been known as Mexico’s murder capital for years.

Last year, there were still 1,933 violent deaths in Juarez, according to the Chihuahua state attorney’s office. But it’s the first time since at least 2007 that the number of murders went down. And it went down sharply, with a 38% decline from the 3,117 murders counted in 2010. There were 2,643 murders in 2009, 1,607 in 2008 when violence exploded and 300 in 2007.

Some have credited Leyzaola with helping reduce the violence.

But the former military officer’s tenure has not been without controversy.

Leyzaola and his police officers have been accused of human rights violations, including the beating of prisoners.

He has dismissed the allegations — and threats from organized crime — as an attempt to derail his crime-fighting efforts.

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