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Zarkin, Jessica. 2023. "The Silent Militarization: Explaining the Logic of Military Members' Appointment as Police Chiefs." Comparative Politics 55 (4): 549-572.

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.

Flores-Macías, Gustavo A., and Jessica Zarkin. 2023. "The Consequences of Militarized Policing for Human Rights: Evidence from Mexico." Comparative Political Studies. OnlineFirst.

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.

Flores-Macías, Gustavo A., and Jessica Zarkin. 2022. "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.

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.

Working papers

González, Yanilda and Jessica Zarkin. 2023. "Who Governs Policing? Mayors' Strategic Linkages to Police in Latin American Cities." (Revise and Resubmit)

Abstract: What explains the variation in mayors’ strategic linkages with police forces they do not formally control? This question is of central importance in Latin America, home to 43 of the 50 most violent cities in the world. As mayors with limited to no authority over police came to see their electoral fortunes affected by citizen demands for security, some have expanded the role of municipal governments in policing. Others, however, deliberately constrained their role in this electorally risky area. Drawing on within and cross-case comparisons of São Paulo, Colombia, and Mexico City police forces, we argue and show that variation in mayors’ strategic linkages to policing and security is shaped by electoral incentives for responsiveness and constraints that impose responsibility and risk of shirking by police. Our findings speak to an emerging research agenda placing policing at the center of our understanding of urban governance and democratic responsiveness more broadly.

Blair, Rob, Michael Weintraub, and Jessica Zarkin. 2023. "Why do Citizens Support Ineffective Military Policing Policies? Evidence from Field and Survey Experiments in Colombia." (Under Review)

Abstract: Governments across the Global South increasingly rely on their militaries to conduct domestic policing operations. Despite recent evidence that military policing does not reduce crime, most Latin Americans still endorse it. What explains persistent support for this apparently ineffective practice? We propose two mechanisms sticky beliefs and blame shifting—that could account for these patterns. Results from a survey experiment of 7,858 respondents in Cali, Colombia support the blame-shifting mechanism, but not the sticky beliefs mechanism. We complement the survey experiment with evidence from a real-world, randomized military policing intervention shown to be ineffective at reducing crime. In line with our survey experimental results, civilians living on or near blocks that were randomly assigned to military patrols in 2019 support the practice less than those living on control blocks even three years later. We discuss the implications of our findings for policing and democratic responsiveness in countries beset by crime.

Work in progress

Zarkin, Jessica. "Security is on the upswing; who should get the credit? Insights from Mexico City residents."

Zarkin, Jessica. "Decentralize policing? Insights from Mexico City residents."

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

Canales, Rodrigo and Jessica Zarkin. 2021. "The Importance of Managerial Quality for Police Organizations."

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