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Flores-Macías, Gustavo A., and Jessica Zarkin. 2021. “The Militarization of Law Enforcement: Evidence from Latin America.” Perspectives on Politics 19(2): 519-538.

Abstract: What are the political consequences of militarizing law enforcement? Across the world, law enforcement has become increasingly militarized over the last three decades, with civilian police operating more like armed forces and soldiers replacing civilian police in law enforcement tasks. Scholarly, policy, and journalistic attention has mostly focused on the first type, but has neglected the study of three main areas toward which this article seeks to contribute: 1) the constabularization of the military—i.e., when the armed forces take on the responsibilities of civilian law enforcement agencies, 2) the extent to which this process has taken place outside of the United States, and 3) its political consequences. Toward this end, this article unpacks the concept of militarized law enforcement, develops theoretical expectations about its political consequences, takes stock of militarization in Latin America, and evaluates whether expectations have played out in the region. It shows that the distinction between civilian and military law enforcement typical of democratic regimes has been severely blurred in the region. Further, it argues that the constabularization of the military has had important consequences for the quality of democracy in the region by undermining citizen security, human rights, police reform, and the legal order.

Flores-Macías, Gustavo A., and Jessica Zarkin. 2021. "Explaining Public Support for Militarizing Law Enforcement: Evidence from a Conjoint Experiment in Mexico.” British Journal of Political Science 52(3): 1377-1397. Pre-print.

Abstract: Although a growing body of research suggests that the constabularization of the military for domestic policing is counterproductive, this increasingly prevalent policy has nonetheless enjoyed widespread support in the developing world. This study advances our understanding of the consequences of militarization for perceptions of law enforcement: whether visual features shape perceptions of effectiveness, respect for civil liberties, proclivity for corruption, and acceptance of militarization in one’s own neighborhood. Based on a nationally representative, image-based, conjoint experiment conducted in Mexico, we find that military weapons and uniforms enhance perceptions of effectiveness and respect for civil liberties, and that the effect of military uniform becomes greater with increased military presence. We also find that gender shapes perceptions of civil liberties and corruption, but we find no effect for skin color. The findings suggest that a central feature of militarization linked to greater violence—military weapons—is paradoxically a key factor explaining favorable attitudes, and that women can play a crucial role in improving perceptions of law enforcement.

Working papers

Flores-Macías, Gustavo A., and Jessica Zarkin. 2021. "The Consequences of Militarized Policing for Human Rights: Evidence

from Mexico" (Under review) (draft available upon request).

Abstract: What are the consequences of the militarization of public safety?  Governments increasingly rely on militaries for policing, but the systematic study of this phenomenon's consequences for human rights has been neglected. Scholarly, NGO, and journalistic accounts point to widespread violations by both civilian police and militaries, but which one performs worse remains unresolved. Based on unique data on military deployments and human-rights complaints in Mexico, we conduct a systematic, country-wide study of the consequences of militarization for human rights. Following matching and difference-in-difference strategies, we find that militarization leads to a 160% increase in complaints against federal security forces, an effect that does not abate over time. We also leverage deployments for disaster-relief operations and joint operations with police to show that the increase is not due to more personnel or higher reporting in their presence. The findings have important implications for our understanding of punitive populism and militarized policing.

Zarkin, Jessica. 2022. "The Silent Militarization: Explaining the Logic of Military Members' Appointment as Police Chiefs." (Revise and Resubmit) (Draft available upon request).

Abstract: What explains the militarization of public safety? Despite its failure to reduce crime and harmful consequences for human rights, the militarization of policing remains a popular and widespread policy. Existing scholarship has mainly focused on the police adopting military weapons, training, and tactics but has neglected a silent but consequential type of militarization: the appointment of military members as police chiefs. Whereas the conventional wisdom points to partisanship and violence as key drivers, I argue that the militarization of police leaders responds to political motives. Based on a novel data set on 5,580 police chief appointments in Mexico and repeated event history analysis, I find evidence of a top-down militarization sequence. Mayors are more likely to appoint military chiefs when upper levels of government, and peers, embrace a militarized security strategy. I then turn to Nuevo León to illustrate how pressures from above and strategic incentives drive this sequence.

Canales, Rodrigo, Jessica Zarkin, and Cosma Gabaglio. 2021. "The Importance of Managerial Quality for Police Organizations." (Revise and Resubmit) (draft available upon request).

Abstract: This study evaluates how managerial practices and organizational design matter for police organizations. It introduces a new survey instrument based on the World Management Survey, which covers practices ranging from talent development and police professionalization to organizational resilience. We implement our method in interviews across 431 police departments in Mexico where we observe a large spread in management practices. We then examine the relationship between management quality and police performance and find that higher management quality is associated with better performance measured in arrest rates, police actions, and employee turnover. Based on the survey results and a comparative case study analysis, we also propose three mechanisms that explain why most police organizations have poor managerial practices.

Work in progress

Zarkin, Jessica. 2021. "Military or Civilian? The Changing Forces of Police Departments and Bureaucratic Destabilization in Mexico."

Zarkin, Jessica. 2022. "Are There Reputational Returns to Militarizing Public Safety? Survey Evidence from Latin America."

González, Yanilda and Jessica Zarkin. 2022. "Who Governs Policing? Mayors' Strategic Linkages to Police in Latin America."

Canales, Rodrigo, Jessica Zarkin, and Lluvia González. 2021. "Procedural Justice Training and the Guardian Mindset: Evidence from the Mexico City Police."

Dissertation project

My dissertation, “Who Wears the Badge? Why Politicians Militarize Policing and Public Safety,” examines politicians' decision to see crime as a problem to be deterred through punishment or with the help of the communities they govern. In it, I go beyond conventional research on police militarization which has narrowly focused on the use of military tactics by specialized units, the acquisition of military weapons and equipment by police, and the military’s participation in domestic policing. Instead, I focus on the militarization from within that takes place with the appointment of military members as police chiefs.  In the first chapter, I propose a novel theory on why political executives appoint military members as police chiefs. I argue that local politicians appoint military chiefs when they face coercive pressures and strategic incentives to align with the federal government’s militarized security strategy. In the second chapter, I build a theory of when and how recruitment of military members into police departments results in bureaucratic destabilization (i.e., disrupts the inner workings of the police). Finally, in the third chapter, I propose that police militarization presents an opportunity for elected officials to signal competence in security governance and boost their reputation. My dissertation combines various qualitative methods, including in-depth interviews, qualitative comparative analysis, and three-stage content analysis, alongside survey experiments and repeated event history research designs. This project is based on two years of immersive qualitative fieldwork in seven police departments in Mexico, during which I, together with a team of researchers, conducted over 300 in-depth interviews with civilian and ex-military police officers, police chiefs, state and municipal employees, and mayors. It also leverages two original data sets on police chief appointments.