A 2018 PNAS study concludes that

militarized “special weapons and tactics” (SWAT) teams are more often deployed in communities of color, and—contrary to claims by police administrators—provide no detectable benefits in terms of officer safety or violent crime reduction, on average. However, survey experiments suggest that seeing militarized police in news reports erodes opinion toward law enforcement. Taken together, these findings suggest that curtailing militarized policing may be in the interest of both police and citizens.

Now "militarized police" can mean different things to different people, but a good number of countries, including some European ones, have a Gendarmerie, which according to Wikipedia's definition is a

a military force with law enforcement duties among the civilian population.

Are there surveys in countries (besides the US) that have such a force finding a negative reaction among the population, and more precisely among the minorities, when the "Gendarmerie" (whatever it may be called in a given country) is deployed, over and above less "militarized" police?

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    In Austria, a popular view of Gendarmerie is this: In urban areas, the police is called Police. In rural areas, it's called Gendarmerie. Other than the name, there is little difference between them from an ordinary person's point of view. Gendarmerie does not appear more militarized than ordinary police.
    – user4370
    Commented Sep 3, 2020 at 9:31
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    In countries that fell under Soviet yoke you will find such feelings still alive for non-theoretical reasons, as such forces were used as means of oppression by communist regimes. For example in Poland there was ZOMO en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ZOMO However you won't find much of surveys (because "everyone knows its true") and it was more or less targeted against majorities rather than minorities, so I am not sure if it would be fit for answer.
    – PTwr
    Commented Sep 3, 2020 at 9:33
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    The Gendarmerie are no more armed than the civilian Police. They are technically military, they are not "militarized".
    – OrangeDog
    Commented Sep 3, 2020 at 9:40
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    The American political rhetoric is not about people with actual military positions doing police work; it is about ordinary police having access to military equipment and training. Commented Sep 4, 2020 at 15:43

5 Answers 5


There is a lot of confusion regarding the French Gendarmerie, fueled by descriptions like “military police” or “military force with law enforcement duty” which are technically correct but do not fully reflect the nature and tactics of the force. Its members are indeed military officers, which has some legal consequences (trade unions are strictly forbidden, ranks are different) but it is otherwise a regular law enforcement agency, not an elite force or second level of response when the police cannot deal with a situation.

In general, the French Gendarmerie is policing rural areas and small towns when the national police (Police nationale) is in charge of big cities (and above all Paris, which the French government has long feared as the source of many revolts and disturbances). In its area of responsibility, the Gendarmerie covers the full scale of law enforcement activities, from policing traffic, securing road accident sites (a major role as they cover most of the long-distance road network) and response to emergency calls and disturbances (police secours) to criminal investigations and riot control.

French gendarmes are not issued and do not routinely carry military weapons (e.g. HK 416) but simply a handgun (Sig-Sauer SP 2022, procured through a common call-for-bids covering both police and Gendarmerie). Unlike the rest of the military, ranking members of the Gendarmerie have power-of-arrest (officier de police judiciaire) and are trained in criminal procedure. They will act at the behest of the justice system when appropriate (executing warrants, etc.) In this like in so many other aspects they are closer to the police than to the military.

Operationally, both the police and the Gendarmerie have SWAT teams (the GIGN and RAID are the most famous). It is extremely rare for the Gendarmerie SWAT team to be called in to intervene in the police area of responsibility and vice versa. Both the police and Gendarmerie have roughly the same number of riot control units (unité de force mobile: escadron de gendarmerie mobile in the Gendarmerie and compagnie républicaine de sécurité in the police), with similar tactics and organisation, deployed side-by-side depending on availability (especially in Paris). The Gendarmerie does have a few aging armored vehicles, seldom seen in metropolitan France but that's about the only difference when it comes to riot control.

The Gendarmerie has a few capabilities the police doesn't have but they are really marginal and not directly relevant to your question: mountain rescue, coast guard duties, security for air bases and nuclear sites, provost duties for the French military at home and abroad, deployment abroad to secure French military bases and diplomatic posts. The GIGN also has a long tradition of training and working with the special forces and has officers trained in military parachuting or assault at sea so that it is tasked with some counter-terrorism missions on the whole territory (i.e. even in the police area of responsibility). The police also has a few specific duties that are not shared with the Gendarmerie: investigation of terror attacks, border control and railway police, larger role in domestic intelligence.

All that is a long-winded way to say that the analogy in the question is not the right one. To the extent that there are debates on a “militarization” of law enforcement (and in France there are, for example regarding riot control tactics), it would not focus on Gendarmerie vs. police. If anything, the Gendarmerie has a more positive image in the public and a reputation of being less “heavy handed” than the police. With a few key exceptions (Rémi Fraisse and Adama Traoré), all cases of excessive violence and racism by law enforcement that have created controversy in France in the last decade involved the police, not the Gendarmerie.

Incidentally, while they do sometimes retain a different legal status and traditions, there are signs of a convergence between Gendarmerie and police in many European countries. In Austria or Belgium, the Gendarmerie was merged with the police. In France, it was transferred from the ministry of Defense to the ministry of the Interior.

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    In Germany, the Bundesgrenzschutz became the Bundespolizei decades ago, too. Their SWAT team is still called Border Guards Group 9 to keep the tradition.
    – o.m.
    Commented Sep 2, 2020 at 15:36
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    Almost the same in Spain with the Guardia Civil. They are mostly in charge of policing rural areas, borders and patrol national roads (and some specialist units), have a military-like structure, and can be used both for police tasks (the usual missions in Spain in peacetime, under the Ministry of Interior) and for military tasks (some foreign missions, or during war, under the Ministry of Defense).
    – SJuan76
    Commented Sep 2, 2020 at 22:01
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    It seems that the French have a tradition of outsourcing public service to the military - Les Sapeurs-Pompiers (fire and rescue service) in Paris is also a brigade of the French Army.. Commented Sep 3, 2020 at 8:48
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    @OscarBravo There are two of them in France: Paris and Marseile (in Marseille, they are not part of the Army but of the Navy). They were established at different times, each of them after a large fire that was seen to be mishandled by the municipal fire brigade.
    – Relaxed
    Commented Sep 3, 2020 at 8:51
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    @o.m. The Bundespolizei is not, and never was, a military force though – it's under the administration of the Federal Ministry of the Interior, and not of the Federal Ministry of Defense. So, it's not a "militarized police" in the sense used by the OP (members of the Bundesgrenzschutz did have combatant status, though).
    – Schmuddi
    Commented Sep 4, 2020 at 7:57

New Zealand

Background: Police in New Zealand do not typically carry firearms on their person, despite a longstanding stated desire from the police association to do so. Since 2012 pistols and semi-automatic rifles are stored in lock boxes in patrol cars, which may be accessed at the officer's discretion, but they must advise their command if they are going to do so. Typically when dealing with armed suspects the procedure is to call in the Armed Offenders Squad (AOS), who have extra training and equipment to contain a situation, after which the Special Tactics Group (with an even higher level of training, and consisting of officers selected from the AOS) is employed to resolve the situation. In exceptional circumstances district commanders have the authority to order all frontline officers to carry their firearms while on duty, as was done after the mass shooting at two mosques in 2019.

As a response to this mass shooting, and an alleged rise in use of firearms by criminals, a six-month trial of "Armed Response Teams" (ARTs) was instigated. This involved members of the Armed Offenders Squad patrolling full-time while armed. The trial ended after 6 months because they created fear in the community, according to the police themselves

Police Armed Response Teams set up after the Christchurch mosque attacks were dumped because they “created fear” in the community, new documents have revealed.

The documents, released under the Official Information Act, show police commissioner Andy Coster wrote to district commanders shortly before abolishing the trial.

He said the teams had not achieved community support or inspired trust, as hoped.

“These ARTs created fear, which was the exact opposite of what we were trying to achieve,” Coster wrote.

In the aftermath of this, a survey of Māori and Pasifika people (the most significant minorities, about 25% of the population) found the following:

Justice reform advocate Laura O'Connell Rapira said 91 percent of people surveyed were less likely to call the police in family violence situations if they knew the police had guns.

"I think given the research in New Zealand which shows Māori women are three times more likely to be killed by a partner than non Māori, it is extremely distressing to know that Māori are less likely to call the police in those situations knowing that they have guns," she said.

Of those surveyed, 87 percent of participants said knowing police were armed in their community made them feel less safe, and 75 percent did not think the police were well placed to respond and help people in mental health crisis or distress.

A further 92 percent agreed there was a need to prioritise alternative ways of keeping people safe such as teams of paramedics, trauma and culture-informed health and mental health professionals who were available and on-call 24/7.

Before recent events, in 2010 a survey sampling from the whole population found only about 30% of respondents supported the police carrying guns:

Almost two thirds of people do not want police carrying guns on general duties, saying it is enough to have the armed offenders squad.

In a Herald survey, 31 per cent of the 2296 respondents supported allowing all police to carry firearms at all times.

But 65 per cent believed only the armed offenders squad should carry guns, showing strong support for current police practice.

Only 1.2 per cent of those polled believed police should not be armed in any circumstances, and 3 per cent were unsure.

So there is a continual push from the police to allow them to carry weapons regularly, which is arguably making continual slow progress (they also began regularly carrying tasers in 2015). But it remains widely unpopular with significant pushback from the general population, minorities in particular. For context and comparison with the other answers covering Mexico it's also worth noting that the violent crime rate in New Zealand is rather low (homicide rate 0.7 per 100,000 compared to 4.96 in the US and 29.07 in Mexico).


A (currently WIP) study entitled Militarization and Perceptions of Law Enforcement in the Developing World: Evidence from a Conjoint Experiment in Mexico by Flores-Macías, G., & Zarkin, J. looks at this factor in Mexico.

This study uses data from an image-based conjoint experiment in a nationally representative survey, in which respondents were presented with a range of images of police, with varying degrees of militarization (uniform/weapon), gender, and skin colour. Respondents were then asked to judge their perceived effectiveness, respect for civil liberties, corruptability, and support for the depicted individual conducting law enforcement in the respondents' neighbourhood.

The findings, interestingly, are different from those observed in the US in the PNAS study:

We find that both military uniforms and military weapons increased perceptions of effectiveness and respect of civil liberties. We also find that gender had no effect on perceptions of effectiveness, but female individuals increased perceptions of respect for civil liberties and reduced perceptions of corruption. We did not find an effect for skin color. Further, we find that military weapons increased support for constabularization in the respondent´s neighborhood, while male images decreased support. These findings suggest that female security personnel can enhance perceptions of respect of civil liberties and integrity, but also that a key feature of militarization associated with greater levels of violence—the use of military weapons—is a central factor contributing to the favorable attitudes among the public.

In addition, the study doesn't appear to find evidence of a significant difference from this attitude from minority respondents, however, the details are in an as yet unpublished appendix.

We also estimated whether causal effects differed by respondent subgroup. As shown in the Appendix, we find little support for heterogenous effects. For example, differences in AMCEs are similar for individuals who live in more violent municipalities compared to those that live in less violent municipalities, for victims and non-victims of crime, for wealthier and less affluent respondents, and for those who have higher levels of trust towards the military versus those that have little to no trust, to name a few.

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    This might be an effect specific to Mexico. Unfortunately, in my mind actual facts and Hollywood images are smeared together, but I believe that military-style units are more associated with federal police whereas normal units are more associated with local police, and local police are associated (whether actually true or not is irrelevant for the perception) with being "in the pocket" of cartels. So there might be some false correlation between "federal" and "military" here. Commented Sep 2, 2020 at 20:33
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    @Acccumulation Sounds like a jargon term used in a particular field to me. Not being in a dictionary doesn't make something "not a word", it just means it's not a word the editors of that dictionary have deemed worthy of inclusion.
    – IMSoP
    Commented Sep 3, 2020 at 9:09
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    @IMSoP Dictionaries are quite comprehensive in what they include as "words". If they don't include, that does convey that they do not consider it a well-established word. In the context of written text, a word is a sequence of letters than conveys clear meaning. If there is no way to look up its meaning (e.g. dictionary), then it fails at one of the core functions of a word. Commented Sep 3, 2020 at 18:37
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    @Acccumulation Ever seen a medical dictionary? Legal dictionary? How about urbandictionary? Many contexts (specific professions, online communities, age groups, regional dialects) have specialized terms that don't make it into a mainstream dictionary intended to be sold to general audiences. Dictionaries are an imperfect reflection of language, not the other way around. Neither you nor Merriam-Webster has the authority to declare something "not a word"; if other people are successfully using it to communicate, it's just a word you don't know (yet). Commented Sep 3, 2020 at 19:55
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    At least ‘constabularisation’ is easy enough to work out if (like most of us) you've not seen it before. Unlike ‘AMCEs’…
    – gidds
    Commented Sep 4, 2020 at 13:08

Carabinieri in Italy are a military police force, but they are basically indistinguishable from the police, as they have essentially the same tasks. I would bet that many Italians don't even know that the Carabinieri are part of the military, in the same category as the army, the air force and the navy. [EDIT: they are not part of the army since 2000, as noted in a comment by Rodrigo de Azevedo].

A recent poll (January 2020) measured 'trust' in various Italian police forces.

  • Polizia di Stato (civil police): 69% (-2.5% from last year)
  • Carabinieri (military police, basically the same as the French gendarmerie): 65.5% (-5% from last year)
  • Guardia di Finanza (militarized police force, under the ministry of Economy, dealing with financial crime and smuggling): 70.4% (+2.1% from last year).

The article attributes the dip for Carabinieri to the recent sentence on the case of Stefano Cucchi (a young man allegedly starved and beaten to death by some Carabinieri while imprisoned; the case is from 2009, but two defendants were convicted for manslaughter in November 2019).

All in all, the ratings for Carabinieri are slightly lower than those for Polizia, but not significantly so.

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    One difference is that the Carabinieri have paratroopers. These were used domestically in Operazione Vespri siciliani. There are also the Cacciatori di Calabria and the Cacciatori di Sicilia. However, most Italians never encounter these Carabinieri. Commented Sep 4, 2020 at 7:50
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    (+1) I have always wondered what the exact different and deployment doctrine, I have the feeling I often see carabinieri patrolling or simply being busy in Italian cities (most recently Napoli), sometimes just next to the police, something you don't really see the French Gendarmerie do.
    – Relaxed
    Commented Sep 4, 2020 at 17:50


This question should be answered by citing international studies on public trust in police institutions with a focus on militarization. Alas, a cursory search did not reveal any such studies.

I have found, however, some information that may hint at an answer.

Police militarization

The study OP linked in their question defines police militarization as follows: "Police militarization is a continuum defined by a combination of equipment, tactics, and culture that centers on violent conflict." (Mummolo 2018) Some studies focus specifically on the employment of military (surplus) equipment by police forces (Insler et al. 2019, Burkhardt & Baker 2018).

Trust in police

Policing styles

Studies in North and South America have found that community-oriented policing (COP) creates more public trust in the police (Malone & Dammert 2020, Peyton et al. 2019), and since police "agencies that have warrior tendencies" (and therefore seem unlikely to engage in COP) acquire military equipment disproportionately, some of the distrust in militarized police agencies might be explained this way. However, this is merely an ad-hoc proposition on my part, which should be taken with heaps of salt.


In the comments to CDJB's answer, someone mentioned a possible distortion because of the distrust towards local police in contrast to a relatively high trust in "military-style units". This seems to be correct; while I couldn't access the original survey, a news article from 2017 reports that public trust in military is high, whereas trust in local police is low. A third of the respondents thinks that local police participates in criminal activity, and a whopping two thirds think that local police is controlled by organized crime.

  • Re Mexico: the trust is probably reflective of actual conditions of corruption in the police in Mexico given various corruption prosecutions that have been reported. But this underlies the general rule that actual local conditions rather than a general rule drives trust in a particular law enforcement organization.
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Jan 25, 2023 at 20:58

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