Police Encounters of the Chapala Kind

One observation tourists usually make very soon upon arriving in Mexico is the level of police presence.

We’re talking pretty heavily armed too. Heavy protective gear, automatic weapons (or semis–we don’t know the difference).

On each of the three trips to Laredo we’ve made in our time here, we’ve gone through checkpoints staffed both by police and by the Mexican military.

And we’re used to seeing police here in Chapala. Just like in the states, the boys in blue (and women too!).

There are three levels of police that we’ve observed: local, state and federal. Pretty much, they drive around in vehicles like this:

This is a state police vehicle (Jalisco being the state). Typically, two officers will be in the cab and three or four officers will ride in the back truck bed.

We’ve been pulled over twice now in the almost year and a half that we’ve been living in Mexico. Both times locally.  Both times, well, odd. Here’s our experiences.

Earlier this year we went to see Santana up in Guadalajara. The show started at nine p.m. and by the time we were headed home after the show it was around midnight.

We were driving down the main route (Rt. 23) toward Chapala, passing through the sprawl that populates the route.

I saw one of the local Chapala police trucks up ahead, just cruising along. It was going fairly slow, so I signaled by way into the passing lane and went by. Given the traffic we ended up passing each other a couple of times until finally we were ahead of the police vehicle when on come the lights.

Oh no. Not good. So I pull over off the road and wait. I didn’t even know what the police would ask me for. So I waited. Bonita and our neighbor (in the back seat) sat quietly. None of us were sure what the stop was for.

An officer appeared at my window. I opened it and the officer immediately said “buenas noches” (good evening) and I returned the salutation. He continued with “como estas” (how are you?) to which I replied “muy bien” (very well) and again I returned the salutation.

He didn’t ask for any papers. He took a good look inside the car, paying particular attention to the back seat.

His partner then appeared who seemed to speak some English and we chatted at bit.

They said “adios” (goodbye) and sent us on our way.

No papers; no warning; no violation.

The second encounter happened in Guadalajara. Bonnie and I were returning from the opera. We were driving down one of the main drags in Guad headed toward Rt. 23, when a cop on a motorcycle appeared beside us and motioned for me to pull over.

Oh no, not again, I thought.

We were on a very busy street with no shoulder. Fortunately, it did have a frontage road and I was finally able to pull over. The cop got in front of us and led the way to a safe stopping point.

He appeared at my window.

All business.

He asked for papers, without specifying which papers.

So Bonnie pawed through the glove box looking for the paperwork we’d received in Laredo. The permit for the car and the insurance.

We couldn’t find it. We both started freaking out just a little. Visions from bad movies of Mexican prisons danced in our heads.

But then, the cop was back at the window. He’d run our plates through his system and we came back clean (all of which was communicated by sign language a la charades) and he sent us on our way.

(Turns out the paperwork we were looking for was under the passenger seat of the car.)

So, those are our two police encounters. Just goes to show that such encounters don’t have to end in a horror story.

We’re feeling protected here in Chapala.



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