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Policing as a Vocation: Centralization, Professionalism, and Police Malfeasance in Latin America


Police in Latin America have a history of protecting and serving their own interests (i.e. the abuse of authority for personal gain). Why do police engage in malfeasance? Conventional wisdom would argue that police malfeasance is less likely where police were locally controlled and based on occupational models. The logic is that decentralized control over police empowers local communities to hold their police accountable, and occupational models would engender closer ties to the civilian population. My dissertation finds the opposite. I argue that a nationally organized and professional-bureaucratic police offer better control over malfeasance. The reason is that nationalizing the police can help break patrimonial domination whereby the elites use police as a reward for loyal followers. By also shifting away from an occupational model where police service is just a job to a professional model where police service is a vocation will improve benefits, training and oversight institutions—these lower the levels of malfeasance. These findings came from nine months of field research in Mexico, Colombia, and Chile. In the field, I conducted in-depth elite interviews, retrieved archival documents, newspaper articles and government documents. The data was analyzed using historical process tracing, within-case comparison, and a combination of most-similar-most-different case methods.

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