By Marina Montemayor
CIUDAD JUAREZ, Mexico — The border city of Ciudad Juarez is sending police recruiters across the country and will keep 175 officers who have used drugs in the past as it tries to replace nearly half a police force gutted by firings and retirements.
The tough industrial city of 1.2 million, just across the border from El Paso, Texas, has seen several policemen killed and dozen of people murdered in bloody drug gang turf battles in recent months.
More than 900 policemen have been fired, resigned or retired since the start of year - including 334 who were ousted on Friday after they failed psychological, background and other checks as part of a clean-up campaign meant to root out officers who are corrupt or cooperating with drug traffickers.
The city has lost officers far faster than it can replace them on what was once a 1,700-person force.
City spokesman Jaime Torres said on Friday the force will retain on probation the officers whose past use of drugs was detected during vetting tests. It also plans to send recruiters to the states of Chiapas, Veracruz and Jalisco, looking for former soldiers willing to serve in Ciudad Juarez.
Officials already have recruited about 80 prospective police officers in the southern state of Oaxaca. Those former soldiers are now undergoing training in Ciudad Juarez.
Mayor Jose Reyes Ferriz said the city will open an office to help the fired officers find other jobs, but added their names will be added to databases to prevent them from signing on as police elsewhere in Mexico.
Some of the officers have pledged to file lawsuits to recover their jobs.
The Mexican army, which has been patrolling some sections of Juarez for months, is expected to help pick up the slack until the force can return to full strength.
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On Thursday, gunmen lined up six men outside a Ciudad Juarez banquet hall, forced them to kneel and killed them. No arrests have been made.