This article was originally printed at Jacobin.
During his time as New York City major, Rudy Giuliani was known above all as a fierce partisan of “law and order.” Since he left office in 2001, he has leveraged that reputation into a lucrative private-sector consulting career and now heads Giuliani Partners. The company’s subsidiary, Giuliani Security and Safety (GSS), offers “a comprehensive range of security and crisis management services,” and boasts “affiliations or previous engagements” in more than a dozen countries around the world.
Latin America has been a particular place of interest. Giuliani has given speeches about security and development at private-sector events in the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Guatemala, Mexico, Panama, and Puerto Rico, and his firm has landed high-priced consulting deals in several countries in the region.
But many question the extension of Giuliani’s “zero-tolerance” approach to public safety in Latin America. In the world’s most violent region — where racial discrimination, corrupt judiciaries, and abusive security forces have persisted for decades — some say heavy-handed policies like the ones Giuliani promotes make things even worse.
Giuliani insists that his philosophy is a perfect fit for Latin America. “Sure, there are differences between New York City and Mexico City,” he said in October 2002, “but I’m not sure those differences are relevant to crime reduction.”
And in a sense, he’s right. Despite the deep differences between the US and Latin America, many of the worst effects of Giuliani’s New York City policies have been replicated and amplified in Latin America.
Tough on Crime
Giuliani began honing his tough-on-crime image while working narcotics and corruption cases as a federal prosecutor in New York in the early 1970s. He later moved to the deputy attorney general’s office in Washington DC, where he argued the federal government needed expanded authority to combat crime and terrorism.
The renewal of the “war on drugs” in the 1980s enabled Giuliani to bolster his crime-fighting credentials; in 1983, President Reagan appointed him US attorney for the southern district of New York. “Right after coming into office,” the New York Times reported, “Giuliani announced a Federal ‘sweep’ to rid Manhattan’s Lower East Side streets of small-time drug dealers.”
Giuliani ran for mayor of New York City in 1989, promising to purge the city of “crime, crack, and corruption.” But his first bid for elected public office devolved into a racially charged campaign against challenger David Dinkins, who defeated Giuliani to become the city’s first black mayor.
Giuliani’s use of racist rhetoric and aggressive attacks against his political opponents reached a fever pitch during his successful 1993 campaign to unseat Dinkins. Years later, Dinkins recalled that Giuliani “went for the jugular” during the “vicious” campaign, and that Giuliani’s “underlying message was clear for all to see: The city is in terrible financial straits. Do you really want a black man presiding over it in this time of struggle?”
When Giuliani took over as mayor in 1994, he hired Boston Police Commissioner William Bratton to head the New York Police Department (NYPD). Bratton soon became famous for applying criminologists James Wilson and George Kelling’s “broken windows” theory of policing, which claims stricter enforcement of minor crimes deters more serious offenses. Bratton also implemented a crime data and performance-measuring program known as Compstat, which departments across the country and the world began to use as a model.
While some still maintain the combination of broken windows and Compstat caused the dramatic drop in New York City’s crime rate, the decline began during Dinkins’ term and coincided with a nationwide decrease in violent crime. Others question the extent to which broken windows actually improves citizens’ quality of life.
And even Kelling has reservations about how his theory has been applied. “When I would see some chief in some city say — I just read ‘Broken Windows,’ and tomorrow I am going to implement a Broken Windows program, my response was always ‘Oh shit,’” Kelling said in a recent interview. “The fact that many chiefs in the late 1980s and 1990s said they were implementing community policing or Broken Windows, I didn’t take it all that seriously . . . It was still the old style policing. They weren’t doing anything different except it felt that they had a license to harass youths.”
From Broken Windows to Zero Tolerance
Crime rates in New York City declined enough that Giuliani forced Bratton out of his position, reportedly jealous that the public credited the police commissioner more than the mayor for the improvement in public safety. Bratton’s replacement was Howard Safir, a former DEA agent and US marshal.
With Safir at the helm, Giuliani stepped up crackdowns on small infractions and expanded broken windows into a zero-tolerance strategy that broadened the police net, targeting cabbies, jaywalkers, and “squeegee men.” In practice, this criminalized large segments of the city’s residents. Arrests for low-level crimes climbed to historic highs, with a disproportionate number of the arrestees coming from black and Hispanic communities.
Zero tolerance went hand in hand with cuts to the city’s social programs, spurring one federal judge to rule that Giuliani’s policies ignored the “urgent needs” of the city’s disadvantaged residents.
All this widened long-standing fissures between the police and many New Yorkers — especially the poor, immigrants, and people of color. In 1997, the year of Giuliani’s reelection, the NYPD viciously tortured Haitian immigrant Abner Louima, marking what the New York Times called “the beginning of the unraveling of . . . Giuliani’s relationship with the black community.”
In February 1999, NYPD officers killed Amadou Diallo, an unarmed Guinean immigrant, shooting him forty-one times as he reached for his wallet. The New York Daily News reported that Giuliani initially “would not comment on the shooting,” but “urged the community to ‘be patient.’”
Giuliani again counseled patience when an undercover NYPD narcotics detective shot and killed an unarmed black security guard named Patrick M. Dorismond in March 2000, but as the Times editorial board wrote at the time, the mayor “soon made matters worse by denigrating the dead man as a violent person who was less than ‘an altar boy’ and whose behavior pattern may have contributed to his death.”
A few months later, the US Commission on Civil Rights concluded that the Giuliani’s NYPD appeared “to have avoided learning from . . . places where officials employ approaches to policing that reduce crime and minimize racial tensions.”
Giuliani and Safir attacked the report’s findings. But following the series of high-profile incidents showcasing the darker side of zero tolerance, Safir stepped aside as police commissioner and went on to pursue a career in the corporate security world.
In the wake of 9/11, memories of Giuliani’s divisive history on issues of public safety and race seemed to fade, and he began to concentrate more closely on paving the way for his post-mayoral career.
Giuliani received permission from the city to form Giuliani Partners in late 2001, bringing along several members of his administration’s inner circle — including Safir’s replacement as police commissioner, former New York City narcotics detective and prison commissioner Bernie Kerik, who cofounded GSS forerunner Giuliani-Kerik.
In October 2002, the company landed a contract to advise Mexico City officials on crime-fighting strategies. A group of business and political leaders — led by billionaire Mexican telecom tycoon Carlos Slim — reportedly helped foot the $4.3 million bill. Less than a year later, Mexico City’s public security secretariat issued a report outlining the Giuliani-Kerik’s 146 recommendations. It accepted all of them.
The report touted zero-tolerance policing and Compstat as the pillars of Giuliani’s supposed success in New York, and advocated the adoption of stop-and-frisk — a controversial policing practice used in New York City for years, despite having no effect on the city’s crime rates and disproportionately ensnaring the young, the poor, and people of color.
The report provided few concrete suggestions for combating police corruption and abuses, and contained just one brief paragraph on human rights. Aside from a chart that showed a positive correlation between robberies and unemployment, it also made no mention of poverty, inequality, or lack of jobs. General education was brought up once — to advocate programs to “instill in children respect for the police.”
Sold as a strategy to “clean up” the downtown area and boost investment, the plan was used by Mexico City elites to justify a crackdown on street vendors, unlicensed taxi drivers, and others deemed undesirable. Just as it had in New York City, Giuliani’s zero-tolerance strategy increased tensions between police and local communities while providing few sustained, demonstrable drops in major crimes.
Kate Swanson, a geographer at San Diego State University who has written about Bratton and Giuliani’s approach to policing in Latin America, says broken windows and zero-tolerance policies often go hand in hand with gentrification. “The people who are being swept off the street tend to be racialized, [they] tend to be poor,” Swanson says. “It actually exacerbates inequality.”
Mexico’s former ambassador to the US, Jorge Montaño, puts it even more bluntly: the “people who paid Mr. Giuliani and his associates really made a great mistake. With all honesty, nothing that they suggested was successful . . . His recommendations were not based on the Mexican reality.” Former Mexican Foreign Minister Jorge Castañeda called the plan a “$4 million publicity stunt.”
Trinidad and Tobago
In November 2003, two months after the release of the Mexico City report, Giuliani and Kerik were invited to Trinidad and Tobago to participate in a law enforcement forum hosted by the Colonial Life Insurance Company, a financial conglomerate and one of the largest corporations in the Caribbean. A few months later, Trinidad’s acting commissioner of police, Trevor Paul, announced that the force would consider implementing a Compstat-style program based on a proposal from Giuliani’s firm.
But after the Trinidadian National Security Ministry researched Giuliani’s record in Mexico and heard “less than rave reviews,” George Mason University criminology professor Stephen Mastrofski says, the ministry reached out to Mastrofski and other experts. The academics were tasked with offering alternative recommendations to overhaul the country’s police force.
“Zero tolerance often ignores many basics of policing,” Mastrofski says. He also questions “the idea that Compstat was some kind of smashing success.” Rather than calling for expanded powers for law enforcement and a greater focus on minor offenses, Mastrofski’s team suggested focusing on fundamental aspects of policing, like introducing roll calls for officers and standardizing data collection. In an experiment involving five Trinidadian police stations, Mastrofski tried to institute “something different from what had come out of the colonial experience.”
The results, Mastrofski says, weren’t “extraordinary.” But a statistical study of the project he coauthored concluded that “Trinidad and Tobago’s experience offers the example of a developing nation that used its own resources (with some outsider advice) to fashion a reform plan that even in its very early stages yielded encouraging results.”
Rio de Janeiro
In 2009, GSS formed a “strategic relationship” with the Investigative Management Group, led by former DEA agent and Giuliani campaign advisor Robert Strang. Later that year, after Rio de Janeiro was chosen to host the 2016 Olympics, Brazilian officials announced they would be working with GSS to prepare for the event.
Within months, Rio’s government instituted a “shock and order” campaign similar to Giuliani’s other zero-tolerance policing experiments. Priorities shifted toward “cleaning up” the city, which residents complained resulted in a wide range of police abuses including arbitrarily arresting busloads of black youths for visiting popular tourist beaches. Meanwhile, the Rio city government has stepped up violent evictions of residents of poor, largely black and brown favelas to make way for Olympics-related projects.
That the Brazilian police force slays with impunity large numbers of civilians, especially in Rio, also remains a major issue. In 2010, the United Nations warned that “killings by Brazilian police continue at alarming rates” and that the government had “failed to take all necessary action.” In the years since, Rio’s military police have committed 16 percent of the city’s homicides — more than 1,500 murders — according to Amnesty International, which notes the figures may be underreported. The victims are mostly young, dark-skinned, and poor.
Such repression doesn’t seem trouble to Giuliani. During a visit to Rio in September 2013, Giuliani declared himself “very impressed.”
For his part, former Brazilian National Public Security Secretary and current Rio 2016 Security Director Luiz Fernando Corrêa has publicly distanced himself from the former mayor. “Giuliani has vast experience in public security policies in a city with great problems of urban violence,” Corrêa says. “But the zero-tolerance policy that made him famous is not suited for Latin culture.”
Draconian Policies, Spiraling Violence
Other Latin American leaders are more eager to associate themselves with Giuliani in order to augment their law-and-order bona fides.
Keiko Fujimori — the daughter of former Peruvian dictator Alberto Fujimori, who was forced to resign in 1992 due to a corruption scandal and was convicted of human rights crimes in 2009 — sought out Giuliani to shore up her security platform during her 2011 presidential bid.
And not long after Giuliani’s Rio visit, he traveled to Colombia to support President Juan Manuel Santos’s successful reelection campaign. Giuliani later boasted that his advice had helped bring down crime rates in Bogotá, and Santos thanked him for his “true expertise . . . in the theme of combating crime.” According to GSS CEO John Huvane, GSS is doing “a lot of work for Colombia right now,” and earlier this year, Giuliani accompanied Santos when the president announced a new Compstat-type initiative in Medellín, the country’s second largest city.
Giuliani and GSS have also built profitable relationships in El Salvador, Latin America’s most violent country. Last December, GSS secured a contract, reportedly worth around $500,000, with a Salvadoran business group known as ANEP to consult on public safety issues. Huvane says the group approached GSS after attending a presentation Giuliani gave in Guatemala.
In January, El Salvador’s National Citizen Security Council announced a long-term security and development initiative called “Secure El Salvador,” which is backed by the Organization of American States, the United Nations, and the European Union. The plan focuses on improving areas like infrastructure, education, and the job market in order to alleviate citizen insecurity.
A few months later, shortly before the scheduled launch of Secure El Salvador, ANEP hosted a meeting where Giuliani presented his own recommendations for the country. In his speech unveiling the report, Giuliani said that El Salvador’s gangs “need to be annihilated.”
Like the Mexico City report, the document presented by Giuliani and ANEP is verbose, yet vague. “Citizen insecurity is not a problem of security, it is a problem of development,” the authors wrote. “Therefore it is appropriate to adequately combine ‘zero tolerance’ toward crime with ‘zero tolerance’ toward social exclusion.”
President Salvador Sánchez Cerén greeted the ANEP report with caution, saying the National Citizen Security Council was looking at “different models of security.” But Vice-President Oscar Ortiz was enthusiastic, saying the Salvadoran government had “total openness” to implementing Giuliani’s advice.
Huvane says El Salvador and its neighbors, Guatemala and Honduras, “all share the same problem when it comes to security — the gangs are running things.” He added that “anything [El Salvador does] will be an improvement from what they’re doing now. You have to target the individuals who are crime machines.”
But the country’s attempt to “annihilate” criminal groups doesn’t seem to be working, despite the government’s apparent embrace of GSS’s advice. Each of the four months since the report’s unveiling has been among the deadliest the country has experienced in decades.
Violence between gangs and police in El Salvador has spiraled out of control. Earlier this year, the head of the Salvadoran national police told officers they should shoot suspected criminals with “complete confidence.” And the government recently announced it would begin prosecuting gang members as terrorists.
El Salvador’s homicide rate is now the highest in the world, with an average of about one murder every hour. One analyst wrote that the violence is so bad, he “can’t tell who’s killing whom.” Giuliani’s swaggering tough-on-crime policing won’t reverse any of this.
Jerry Ratcliffe, chair of the department of criminal justice at Temple University, says that in many cases in Latin America, “draconian programs like zero tolerance . . . have not been successful and have exacerbated the long-term crime problem.”
Ratcliffe, a former police officer who has published on the region, says that even if such policies showed success in the US, he would be “very hesitant” to recommend them abroad “unless a mechanism for how they can be tailored and made to fit for the local country is built into the process, because that’s hugely important.”
But Giuliani and GSS aren’t selling proven public safety tactics designed to address specific local challenges. They’re selling a brand name and a myth.
As Mastrofski puts it, Giuliani’s advice boils down to “do what we did in New York.” Unfortunately, his zero-tolerance policies seem poised to create even more devastation abroad than they did in New York City.
Mike LaSusa is an independent researcher and writer who focuses on foreign policy, national security, and human rights in the Americas.