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: doi:10.1017/S0007123421000259. 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. 2020.

"The Consequences of Militarized Policing for Human Rights: Evidence

from Mexico" (Revise and Resubmit) (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.


Canales, Rodrigo, Jessica Zarkin, and Cosma Gabaglio. 2020. "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.

Zarkin, Jessica. 2021. "The Silent Militarization: Explaining the Logic of Military Members' Appointment as Police Chiefs." (Under Review) (draft available upon request).

Abstract: Despite the need to better understand the global trends in militarized policing, scholars have neglected the study of a highly consequential form of police militarization: the appointment of military members as police chiefs. What explains the appointment of military members as police chiefs? In this study, I introduce the concept of fragmented police governance to argue that police militarization by higher levels of government and nearby cities drives local executives—through coercive pressures and strategic incentives— to appoint military chiefs to facilitate inter-agency collaboration in crime control. Based on a unique data set on police chief appointments in Mexico and repeated event history analysis, I find that militarization begets militarization in federal countries. I then turn to Nuevo León state to illustrate how these mechanisms work in practice. My findings raise important normative and practical questions regarding policing and public safety in general, and federal systems, in particular.

Work in progress

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

Zarkin, Jessica. 2021. "Does Demilitarizing Policing Work? Evidence from Neighborhood Action Groups in Ciudad Neza."

González, Yanilda and Jessica Zarkin. 2021. "Who Governs Policing? Mayor's Strategic Linkages to Police in Latin America."

Canales, Rodrigo, Jessica Zarkin, and Lluvia González. 2021. "From Brave Enforcer to Trusted Protector: Role Evolution and Procedural Justice in Mexico City's Police Department."

Dissertation project

My dissertation, “Who Wears the Badge? Why Politicians (De)Militarize Policing and Public Safety,” examines politician’s 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, as well as its subsequent reversal. 

In the first paper, I propose a novel theory on why political executives appoint military members as police chiefs. I argue and show that coercive pressures and strategic incentives embedded in fragmented police governance drive local executives to appoint military chiefs to facilitate inter-agency collaboration in crime control. In the second paper, 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 paper, I propose a new theory on why politicians pursue the demilitarization of public safety and I also explore its consequences for urban governance.
My dissertation combines various qualitative methods, including in-depth interviews, qualitative comparative analysis, and three-stage content-analysis process, alongside repeated event history and quasi-experimental research designs.


This project is based on two years of immersive qualitative fieldwork in seven police departments in Mexico, during which I 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 and police-community partnerships.