My book project, Police, Politicians, and the Regulation of Drug Trafficking in Latin America, analyzes how state actors confront, negotiate with or extract rents from drug traffickers and control drug-related violence. While drug enforcement legislation is designed at the national-level, subnational governments and, especially state police forces, are often its primary enforcers. In contrast with most of the literature on criminal violence, I focus on an often-neglected actor, the police, and on its relationship with subnational political authorities.

I argue that political turnover and fragmentation influence police autonomy, and subsequently shape the police’s primary regulatory strategy of drug trafficking and the extent of its coordination with governing politicians, with different implications for state violence and corruption, as well as criminal violence. With low turnover, politicians can reduce police autonomy, which makes coordinated regulatory arrangements emerge, with lower state violence, high yet centralized corruption and lower criminal violence; low fragmentation allows politicians to appropriate police rents from crime while high fragmentation entices them to restrain the force’s rent extraction. By contrast, with high turnover (regardless of fragmentation), police autonomy is high and uncoordinated arrangements prevail, with higher state violence, anarchic state corruption, and higher criminal violence.

I illustrate this argument through a subnational comparison of four cities in Latin America: Buenos Aires and Rosario, in Argentina, and São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro in Brazil. See the book overview and contents here.

Photo Credit: Pacifying Police Units in Rio de Janeiro, Rio on Watch.