Latin America’s crime rates are astonishing by any standard—the region’s homicide rate is the world’s highest. This crisis continually traps governments between the need for comprehensive reform and the public demand for immediate action, usually meaning iron-fisted police tactics harking back to the repressive pre-1980s dictatorships.

In Policing Democracy, Mark Ungar situates Latin America at a crossroads between its longstanding form of reactive policing and a problem-oriented approach based on prevention and citizen participation. Drawing on extensive case studies from Argentina, Bolivia, and Honduras, he reviews the full spectrum of areas needing reform: criminal law, policing, investigation, trial practices, and incarceration.

Finally, Policing Democracy probes democratic politics, power relations, and regional disparities of security and reform to establish a framework for understanding the crisis and moving beyond it.

Mark Ungar is a professor of political science at Brooklyn College and a professor of criminal justice at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. He has held several important fellowships, worked with international organizations such as the United Nations, and directed projects on community policing and on prison reform in Latin America. Ungar was a Fellow at the Woodrow Wilson Center in 2004–5.

A book launch and discussion was held at the Wilson Center on May 2, 2011.


List of Illustrations
Acronyms and Abbreviations

1. Introduction

2. Realms of Change and Obstacles to Citizen Security Reform

3. Citizen Security and Democracy

4. Honduras

5. Bolivia

6. Argentina

7. Overcoming Obstacles to Reform

8. Conclusion

Appendix A: National Homicide Rates, 1995–2009
Appendix B: Citizen Security Structures and Police Ranks


“Through impressively detailed case studies of the criminal justice systems and attempts at reform in Honduras, Bolivia, and Argentina, [Ungar] provides us with a much-needed understanding of what police in Latin America are doing—not, as he points out, just what the police are doing wrong.… He offers some very interesting, well-researched, and innovative ways in which discretion can be integrated into both training and reforms.”—Michelle D. Bonner, Latin American Research Review

“An extraordinarily thorough analysis.”—Choice

“Very few scholars in the field have the grasp of recent changes in and problems of systems of citizen security in Latin America that this author has. His vision is comprehensive, extending from policing to the judiciary to the prison system.”—Anthony W. Pereira, Tulane University