Policing, Regime Change, and Democracy: Reflections from the Case of Mexico
Working Paper No : 22 (Series 2)
Author: Diane E. Davis
Date : November 2007
This paper explores the experience of attempts to mount new policing operations and restore order in post-revolutionary Mexico, with the aim of generating policy insights for contemporary countries experiencing regime change, and in particular Iraq. It describes how and why the challenges of policing regime change in post-dictatorship Mexico laid the foundation for that country's descent into chaos. Central to this process were the problems engendered by trade-offs between democracy and public security, whereby the privileging of attempts to secure the latter over the former ultimately worked against both, producing further police corruption and abuse of power. More generally, the paper seeks to understand which organisational, political, and societal conditions are more or less likely to lead to the establishment of stable, professional, and non-partisan police who in turn play a positive role in facilitating democratic regime change. The experience of Mexico suggests that the more a new regime needs to count on citizen militias with their own political, ethnic, and religious exclusivities, as opposed to professional police with a commitment to non-partisan social inclusion, the worse the societal fragmentation and the greater the likelihood of persistent violence. The paper concludes that in situations where new regimes have been born out of violent conflict it might be unwise to rush into constitutional reforms that enhance and set in stone police powers. While putting off the task of constitution-making may prolong the effort to establish the foundations for democracy, the question is which elements of the constitution should be dealt with right now, and which might wait until a more propitious moment. In Iraq, a focus on building state institutions and making them accountable, transparent, and pluralistic is likely to provide a more fruitful way forward at this stage than constitutionally enhancing greater police powers.