In this brief, author Mary Fran Malone discusses the security crisis in Central America and successful policing strategies for confronting this crisis. She reports that Central Americans’ experiences and perceptions of crime are linked to an increased likelihood of migration. In 2014, approximately 57,000 unaccompanied minors traveled from Central America to Mexico, continuing north to cross the U.S. border illegally. The large numbers of people fleeing Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras testify not only to the violence of illicit markets but also to the failure of these countries’ governments to fulfill their most important task—protecting the lives of their citizens. Not all Central American countries have failed at this task, however. Nicaragua and Panama have successfully created civilian police forces that have contained the crime crisis while also respecting the rights of citizens. Trust in police is significantly higher in Nicaragua and Panama than other countries in Central America, and people have more trust that the justice system will convict perpetrators of crime. If the United States aims to reduce the number of people fleeing north, it must invest more seriously in policing and public security practices that have a track record of success. After almost two decades, it is clear that the militarized and repressive policing strategies of Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras do not work. As the cases of Nicaragua and Panama demonstrate, community-oriented policing strategies are effective in building citizens’ trust in their police and fostering a culture of respect for human rights.

Publication Date

Fall 12-2-2015


National Issue Brief No. 95


Durham, N.H. : Carsey School of Public Policy, University of New Hampshire

Document Type



Durham, N.H. : Carsey School of Public Policy, University of New Hampshire



Included in

Sociology Commons



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