PRAXEDIS G. GUERRERO, Mexico – There’s a new police chief in this violent borderland where drug gangs have killed public officials and terrified many citizens into fleeing: a 20-year-old woman who hasn’t yet finished her criminology degree.

Marisol Valles Garcia was sworn in Wednesday to bring law and order to a township of about 8,500 that has been transformed from a string of quiet farming communities into a lawless no man’s land. Two rival gangs – the Juarez and Sinaloa drug cartels – have been battling for control of its single highway, a lucrative drug trafficking route along the Texas border.

The tiny but energetic Valles Garcia, whose only police experience was a stint as a department secretary, says she wants her 13 officers to practice a special brand of community policing. She plans to hire more women – she currently has three – and assign each to a neighborhood to talk with families, promote civic values and detect potential crimes before they happen.

“My people are out there going door to door, looking for criminals, and (in homes) where there are none, trying to teach values to the families,” she said in her first official appearance on Wednesday.

Valles Garcia has been assigned two bodyguards but won’t carry a gun. She says she will leave most of the decisions about weapons and tactics to the town’s mayor, Jose Luis Guerrero.

Guerrero solicited proposals from residents on how to make the town safer, and he liked hers so much, he offered her the chief’s job. Drug cartels in many drug-plagued parts of Mexico have killed or threatened police chiefs and their departments, buying off some officers.