My book project, Informal Regulation of Drug Trafficking in Latin America, analyzes how and why police tolerate, protect or prey upon drug dealers and control drug-related violence. In contrast with most of the literature on criminal violence, I focus on an often-neglected actor, the police, and on its relationship with sub-national political authorities.
I argue that political turnover and fragmentation influence police autonomy, and shape how police employ corruption and violence to regulate drug trafficking in metropolitan areas. Regulatory arrangements in turn affect levels of criminals violence.
With low turnover, politicians can reduce police autonomy; low fragmentation allows politicians to appropriate police rents from crime while high fragmentation entices them to restrain the force’s rent extraction. In the ensuing regimes, police protect or tolerate drug dealers, exercise lower violence, and reduce homicide rates.
By contrast, with high turnover (regardless of fragmentation), police autonomy increases. Police regulation of drug trafficking features greater violence and rampant corruption, and yields higher violence by criminals.
I illustrate this argument through a sub-national, within-case comparison of four cities in Latin America since the 1980s: Buenos Aires and Rosario, in Argentina, and São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro in Brazil.
Photo Credit: Pacifying Police Units in Rio de Janeiro, Rio on Watch.