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Mexico’s Private Security Paradox: Understanding the Relationship between the Mexican State and the Private Security Industry


The massive growth of private security raises serious questions about how we conceptualize state power, capacity, legitimacy, and policing in a world where security provision is being rapidly commodified. We can better understand these issues by investigating how states have navigated and negotiated private security expansion. How have states reacted to the rise of private security and are there ways in which they can manage the industry to benefit themselves and society?

This dissertation analyzes the relationship between the state and the private security sector in Mexico. Mexican governments have attempted to direct and exert control over this massive group of non-state security actors who have the potential to enhance the state’s capacity to impose order and reduce crime and violence. The three primary strategies used by the state to manage the industry include incorporation, regulation, and fostering coordination and collaboration. Nevertheless, these policies have backfired leading to a situation wherein the state and private security providers have a distant and sometimes competitive relationship.

First, attempts to incorporate private watchmen into state police forces led to the creation of corrupt and exploited public security units that have damaged state legitimacy, and in some cases, unfairly competed with private security firms. Second, strict regulations combined with corrupt and poor enforcement has encouraged firms to avoid registration and operate informally. Finally, the poor quality and reputation of Mexico’s police forces has caused private security firms to distance themselves from the institution, which has limited coordination and collaboration with the state. As a result, the state is weaker in its ability to effectively manage, control, and coordinate with an industry that can challenge or enhance the state’s legitimacy and its ability to maintain law and order. Ultimately, the Mexican case exhibits how states play an essential role in shaping the form of the private security sector and the actions of individual firms. More specifically, the quality and conduct of state institutions, particularly security institutions, seriously affects the relationship between the private security sector and the state and the results of the state’s efforts to control and direct the private security sector.

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