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The Militarization of Law Enforcement: Evidence from Latin America

  • Gustavo A. Flores-Macías and Jessica Zarkin


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 we seek 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, we unpack the concept of militarized law enforcement, develop theoretical expectations about its political consequences, take stock of militarization in Latin America, and evaluate whether expectations have played out in the region. We show that the distinction between civilian and military law enforcement typical of democratic regimes has been severely blurred in the region. Further, we argue 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.

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Data replication sets are available in Harvard Dataverse at:

We received helpful feedback from presentations at Barnard, Cornell, and Syracuse University, as well as the Latin American Studies Association’s 2018 annual meeting and the 2019 Politics of Policing Virtual Conference. We are especially grateful to John Bailey, Matthew Cleary, Matthew Ingram, Ned Littlefield, Eduardo Moncada, Sarah Kreps, Eduardo Clark, José Sánchez, Christopher Sabatini, Hillel Soifer, Christopher Sullivan, Richard and Maritza Williamson, and anonymous reviewers for their comments.

A list of permanent links to Supplemental Materials provided by the authors precedes the References section.



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The Militarization of Law Enforcement: Evidence from Latin America

  • Gustavo A. Flores-Macías and Jessica Zarkin


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