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Police Reform in Violent Democracies in Latin America

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The central question of this paper is what kind of reforms are necessary to guarantee that Latin American police forces meet what Bayley calls ‘the democratic criteria’: 1) police are accountable to law, not to government; 2) police protect human rights, including those related to democratic participation; 3) there are constraints on the use of police force that are enforced by institutions external to the police force; 4) the police force’s priority is the protection of citizens as individuals and private groups, not the state. The primary focus of this paper is to discuss the types of reforms that ensure that a police force is abiding by the most fundamental principles of the rule of law under a democratic regime. We recognize that in some cases the two problems are so entangled that it is not possible to discuss police reform without addressing effective ways to reduce crime. However, as we argue in the paper, this is not always the case. In many countries it seems possible to separate the two.

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We would like to extend our thanks for the helpful comments and suggestions made by participants at the Faculty Workshop at the University of Toronto Faculty of Law (February 13, 2012), the Law and Economic Development Conference (University of Chicago Law School, April 20–21, 2012) and the SELA Conference (Seminar in Latin America on Constitutional and Political Theory, Mexico City, June 8–10, 2012). Special thanks to Daniel Brinks, Eduardo Estevez and Linn Hammergren for detailed comments on earlier drafts. The usual disclaimers apply.

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Prado, M.M., Trebilcock, M. & Hartford, P. Police Reform in Violent Democracies in Latin America. Hague J Rule Law 4, 252–285 (2012).

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