MONTERREY, Mexico - Police are increasingly fleeing their posts in rural communities in the Mexican border state of Nuevo Leon after the killings of more than 60 officers in the area so far this year.
Authorities blame warring drug traffickers for growing violence in the northern state which has registered more than 250 violent deaths so far in 2010, including 61 police officers, according to the Public Security Ministry.
The figure may pale compared with the 855 deaths this year in the country's most violent northern border city of Ciudad Juarez alone, as attacks multiply across the country.
But the new violence has spread fear through Mexico's economic hub state of Monterrey, which has seen unprecedented shootouts and roads blocked by drug traffickers in recent months.
Among the gruesome killings, a police patrol leader was beheaded in the town of Agualeguas in late March, Luis Carlos Trevino, the state security minister, told AFP.
In recent days, five local police officers were killed, according to officials, including three murdered overnight Monday in Herreras and two others overnight Wednesday in Cerralvo.
These and the towns of Los Aldama, Paras, General Trevino, General Bravo and Doctor Coss have seen remaining police numbers drop.
Los Aldama has been without police since April 7, when the police director and two others in General Trevino were found executed.
Until two weeks ago, Herreras had three police officers.
"Now they've been threatened (by drug traffickers) and there's only one left," Trevino said.
The town lies near the neighboring state of Tamaulipas, a known turf battleground between the Gulf drug cartel and its former hitmen, the notoriously violent Zetas.
Authorities have set up an emergency plan to train volunteer citizens as police while seeking other solutions at the same time.
Agualeguas Mayor Guadalupe Garcia, said that state police had requested volunteers to be sent for training in Monterrey.
"But they're all afraid, no one wants to be a police officer," he said.
The mayor of Herreras, meanwhile, had a more cynical take on the problem.
"We're better off without police. We're afraid but they're targeting police so if there aren't any left, who will they kill? Hopefully they'll go away and leave us in peace," Juan Antonio Gutierrez told AFP.
President Felipe Calderon's administration has deployed more than 50,000 troops across the country, particularly on the northern border with the United States, since the end of 2006 in a bid to tackle organized crime.
But a spike in killings has accompanied the increased security presence, with more than 23,000 deaths attributed to drug-related violence in the same period, according to official figures.