Following the detention of the entire municipal police force in the Mexican city of Zihuatanejo, a pleasant U.S. expat hotspot on the Pacific coast, 20 alleged drug traffickers were found to have been masquerading as cops.

Last Tuesday’s bust was conducted by state and federal police, along with the Marine Corps. Acting on mounting evidence of corruption in that precinct, they detained all 246 officers and officials until they could provide official credentials.

At the end of the operation, 51 arrests were made, including three high-ranking officers, but 31 were later released on charges of operating without full accreditation. The remaining 20 were charged with ties to organized crime and impersonation of public officials.

“Many of them are real police officers, but who we believe have strong ties to organized crime in the region,” Zihuatanejo’s Public Security Chief Carlos Cruz told Fox News. “The cartels are very powerful in the state of Guerrero, and we are working to purge our public bodies of links to drug trafficking.”

Since last week’s operation, the Pacific resort’s municipal force has been taken off duty, leaving the state police and Mexican military to patrol the streets.

“It was a shock,” said David Claassen, originally from Ohio, but who has lived in Mexico for the past three years. “We had no idea this was going on, as Zihuatanejo is such a peaceful and friendly place.”

Both the town’s mayor Gustavo Garcia and the Municipal Police Chief David Nogueda refused to comment, yet sources close to the government said it is only a matter of time before the Municipal Police force is disbanded and control of Zihuatanejo is handed over to state authorities.

“The municipal police will cease to exist once this scandal dies down,” said one magistrate who declined to be identified. “They are extremely corrupt and have only made organized crime worse in Zihua.”

The magistrate, who works in the police station and was a daily witness to organized crime’s infiltration into the force, said he needs to change his phone number once a month to avoid threatening calls from local gangsters.

“Whenever a narco was brought to me after being arrested, I would receive a call from the street boss demanding his immediate release. I had to comply because they know where my family lives and would threaten me terribly,” he said.

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Alasdair Baverstock MA is an award-winning multimedia foreign correspondent based in Mexico City, with more than five years of experience covering Latin America. Originally from London, and with full NCTJ certification, he specialises in news and feature journalism for print, radio and television. His work has previously been used as set-texts in British A-Level examinations. He currently works as CGTN America's Mexico correspondent, and has formerly published work in TIME Magazine, Daily Mail, The Atlantic, Penthouse, Fox News, BBC, Daily Telegraph, TRT World, and others.

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