Women take over police in drug war town

Two housewives have been named police chiefs of Mexican towns near the U.S. border that have been plagued by violence unleashed by Mexico's powerful drug gangs.

The announcement comes just weeks after a 20-year-old female college student took command of the police in another violence-prone town, where policemen have quit and officials have been killed.

Olga Herrera Castillo was appointed police chief in Villa Luz while Veronica Rios Ontiveros will be in charge of the police department in the town of El Vergel; both are located in the municipality of Samalayuca, to the south of Mexico's violent city of Ciudad Juarez.

Samalayuca is composed of four communities with a combined population of 2,500.

Herrera Castillo, a 43-year-old mother of five, said crimes such as arson, extortion and kidnappings that have become common in the area worried her but added she wants to help her country.

"Everything is possible. Although Mexico is going through a crisis right now, there is a solution. With the support of the federal authorities and Mexico's President, we can all achieve this. Although we are women, we want Mexico to pull through, starting with our town, our people, our children," Castillo said.

"Now that we are taking on the job, we can carry out the job as well as a man," she said.

Nevertheless, in nearby communities such as El Millon and Venustiano Carranza in Juarez Valley, women don't want to take on policing jobs due to violent confrontations among rival drug gangs.

In October, Marisol Valles, who studies criminology in Ciudad Juarez, took charge of the police force in the neighboring municipality of Praxedis G. Guerrero near El Paso, Texas, just days before hitmen shot and killed a local official.

The area, known as Juarez Valley, has been sucked into the spiraling violence, rapidly becoming a no man's land where people are abandoning towns despite an army presence.

Drug violence has killed almost 7,000 people in and around Ciudad Juarez since early 2008, while more than 31,000 people have died across Mexico since President Felipe Calderon launched his crackdown on drug cartels in December 2006.

Calderon has pledged to reform Mexico's police and provide better salaries that are often as low as $300 a month.He wants Congress to approve a plan to put municipal police control in the hands of the country's 32 state governments.