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Logan Puck
Jun 19 2024

Private security firms are constantly seeking to enhance their legitimacy amongst potential clients. Mimicking and aligning with the public police forces is a traditional strategy utilized by firms to enhance their reputations. Nevertheless, in Mexico, the poor reputation of the police has caused many firms in that country to distance themselves from the institution and turn to the armed forces instead.

In this post, Logan Puck, Visiting Assistant Professor of Political Science at George Washington University, examines how military fetishism in Mexico has impacted the branding and hiring strategies of private security firms and further perpetuates the on-going militarization of internal security matters in the country.



Robert Reiner conceived of the term police fetishismto describe people’s tendency to view the police as the most appropriate force for preventing chaos and protecting and maintaining the legal and social order. In search of legitimacy, private security firms frequently  mimic and align themselves with the police. In Mexico, however, the police have a very poor reputation and are regularly criticized for corrupt, incompetent, and abusive behavior. Therefore, private security firms tend to distance themselves from the institution. The armed forces, on the other hand, are generally looked upon fondly in Mexican society. Polls show that it is one of the most trusted public institutions in the country, therefore, suggesting evidence of “military fetishism, which I define as the societal belief that the armed forces are the most appropriate and effective institution for upholding and maintaining law and order. I argue that this sense of military fetishism has seeped into the private security industry and is shaping company branding strategies and hiring practices. More specifically, firms publicly distance themselves from the police while advertising their desire to hire former members of the armed forces to enhance their legitimacy in the eyes of potential clients imbued with a sense of military fetishism. This military fetishism in private security follows a growing trend already occurring within Mexican government and society, which is further perpetuating and normalizing the on-going militarization of internal security matters in the country.  

Military Fetishism in Mexican Society 

In Mexico, police fetishism has degraded to such a degree that the military is now looked upon by many as the primary guarantors of protection and law and order. Multiple polls show that Mexicans view the armed forces in much higher esteem than the police. According to a 2022 National Survey of Victimization and Perception of Public Safety, 89.6% of Mexicans surveyed stated that they had either high or some trust in the navy and 87.1% expressed trust in the military. 80.9% of respondents expressed trust in Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s militarized National Guard that replaced the Federal Police in 2018. Comparatively, 56.2% have confidence in the state police, 56% in the ministerial, judicial and investigative police, and 52.7% in the municipal police. Mexican police officers, especially municipal police officers, tend to be ineffective, abusive, corrupt, and poorly trained and educated. A 2018 Parametria poll found that 65% of respondents stated that they would rather have the military patrol the streets than the police. Only 25% of those surveyed stated a preference for the police. As Marcos Pablo Moloeznik states, “there is a widespread perception that the armed forces are the only public institution capable of instilling trust in the Mexican population.” Additionally, instances of military ineffectiveness and human rights abuses tend not to negatively impact the institution’s reputation. For example, the military’s approval rating was found to be the highest in many of the states with the most human rights abuses.

Military Fetishism in the State 

Beginning with President Salinas Gotari (1988-1994), each successive administration – even those that campaigned to reign in the military– have increasingly relied on the armed services to fight crime and drug trafficking within its borders. Successive governments have raised military budgets while police budgets generally remained stagnant. When the Partido Acción Nacional (PAN) won the presidency in 2000, President Fox (2000-2006) provided the armed forces with greater power and autonomy to gain their loyalty. President Calderón (2006-2012) exacerbated this trend when he utilized the military to wage an all-out war on drug trafficking organizations. Calderón’s successor Enrique Peña Nieto (2012-2018) campaigned on a platform that would restrict the use of the military in internal security, but once he took office he more than doubled the number of “mixed operation” military bases across the country and made little effort to bolster or expand the size of federal police force. Finally, current President Andrés Manuel López Obrador came into office on a bold new platform of “hugs not bullets in which he declared the military would be removed from internal security operations and replaced with economic, community, and social development efforts. Soon after he began his term, however, López Obrador reverted to the same militarized strategy of his predecessors by continuing internal military assaults on criminal held territories. He replaced the Federal Police with a new militarized National Guard commanded by military officials and composed of police officers and soldiers. He has also tasked the armed forces with variety of non-security related activities, such as “building infrastructure, distributing gasoline, textbooks for basic education and fertilizers, and controlling the COVID-19 vaccine rollout. 

Military Fetishism in Private Security 

Despite the size and booming nature of private security in Mexico, it is not a highly respected industry. Media reports often warn about the growth of private security in Mexico and the dangers it poses to public safety. Private security guards are regularly derided for their lack of professionalism and training, shabby uniforms, and low wages. A private security consultant explained to me how he often hides the fact that he works in private security because of its bad reputation. Accordingly, the expansion of the industry has been accompanied by a general uneasiness. As a result, private security providers in Mexico strive to improve their legitimacy to reduce society’s discomfort with their existence. In many other countries, the natural response for security firms is to align with the police in the hopes that society’s sense of police fetishism will rub off on them and increase acceptability as security providers. Yet private security firms in Mexico tend to avoid hiring and coordinating with the police due to the abysmal reputation of law enforcement.

In interviews, private security representatives highlighted their distrust of law enforcement and ex-police officers. A number expressed a strong wariness toward hiring former police officers and many said they refuse to hire them at all. José Ubaldo de Leon, the former President of ASIS International’s Northern Mexico Chapter, explained that private security companies simply do not trust ex-police officers. He estimated that ninety percent of private security companies will not hire them under any circumstances. Most of the private security representatives that I interviewed attributed the police with a number of negative characteristics. They called them clowns, mañoso (translated loosely as tricky or disingenuous), crafty, corrupt, and contaminated. One security manager explained that he does not hire former police officers “because the damn police are very corrupt. Ex-policemen are very corrupt. We are ex-military and ex-intelligence” (translated by author). I was also told by multiple interviewees that the police are poorly trained, underpaid, and disrespected. A company owner described how he was particularly suspicious of ex-police officers because of their likelihood of having engaged in bad conduct, consorted with drug traffickers, or grown obese. Consequently, private security providers have turned towards the much more highly reputable armed forces to improve their legitimacy and prestige.

Representatives from the private security industry who were interviewed exhibited a sense of military fetishism as they described the armed forces and ex-military officers in much more laudatory terms. The armed forces were described as a far superior and less corrupt institution than the police. For example, a manager at a security firm explained that “Yes, you may have a corrupted soldier but it’s very rare. The police have practically no honest policemen.” These claims of incorruptibility are surprising considering the increasing corruption within the ranks of the armed forces as service members come into greater contact with drug trafficking organizations. Ex-military officers were also described as possessing more discipline than ex-police. They follow orders without question, whereas ex-police officers, private security representatives complained, are insubordinate, frequently challenge authority, and question every order. No one mentioned the fact that the armed forces have been accused of perpetrating alarming numbers of human rights abuses since they became significantly involved in the war on drugs. Although a few of those interviewed admitted to hiring some highly vetted ex-police officers, no one expressed a preference for ex-police over ex-military and many stated their refusal to hire ex-police officers whatsoever. One company owner explained that he only hired ex-military officers at his firm.

Private security firms’ preference for ex-military are also evidenced in classified advertisements where former members of the armed forces are openly courted. In these classified ads, ex-military are commonly encouraged to apply in big bold lettering while large and distinctive fonts are used to loudly warn away ex-police officers from applying for jobs at their firms. By openly advertising their preference for ex-military officers and their disdain for ex-police officers, these companies not only send a message to job seekers, but to potential clients by signaling that they staff their ranks with what society sees as the best of the best. These companies are reflecting the preferences of a society that holds the armed forces in high regard and distrusts the police.

Although not the norm, some companies go even further by outfitting their employees in military-style camouflage. For example, in its recruitment ads, UNIPROC depicts its employees carrying high caliber weapons in military fatigues. The advertisement is specifically soliciting individuals to work as security guards in a variety of districts in Mexico City and the State of Mexico that have a wide range of crime rates. While some of the areas where UNIPROC operates possess higher than average crime rates, it is not clear why their guards would need to wear military fatigues in these urban zones. Other companies give themselves martial sounding names like Spartan Soluciones, Berserker, ICP Ranger SWAT México, and Seguridad Privada Trooper to further reflect their alignment with the military ideal. These companies are not private military firms, however. They provide the same types of guarding services as the average private security firm. I spoke with the owner of a firm based in Jalisco that has a martial sounding name and he described how his company does not even possess a weapons license.

Concluding thoughts

Presenting a militarized attitude and hiring former members of the armed forces may pose potential dangers to private security firms and the public. Many of the companies actively recruiting ex-military for private security work are providing services more akin to those related to policing. The primary function of the police is “to protect and serve” the public as opposed to the military who generally operate based on an ethos of overwhelming and subduing the enemy. Private security employees are tasked with protecting and serving their clients not overwhelming and subduing an enemy. Similar to police officers, private security employees are concerned with preventing crimes and must use a high degree of discretion when performing their duties and limit their use of violence. Private security companies and the clients who hire their services generally have a high concern for liability issues that may arise from an improper use of force that could lead to injury or death.

Discretion is less important for soldiers who are tasked with using “maximum force in order to defeat the power and will of the opponent as quickly as possible with minimum costs”. Consequently, an ex-soldier working in private security may be more likely to use force when it is unnecessary. As one security consultant put it bluntly, “You don’t punch a mosquito on your nuts”. More broadly, the tendency for private security firms to mimic the military and publicly recruit and hire ex-members of the armed forces reflects the military fetishism prevalent throughout society and further perpetuates and normalizes the on-going militarization of internal security matters in the country. Favoring ex-military in the hiring process leads to greater militarization in the public and private sphere as more individuals with military training are tasked with policing responsibilities. Continued failures by the state to reform and improve the police will only further this trend.





The views and opinions presented in this article belong solely to the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the stance of the International Code of Conduct Association (ICoCA).