The institutionalization of community participation in the context of policing has become increasingly common in Latin America as a means of addressing the seemingly intractable increase in crime and insecurity. The creation of formal spaces for community participation in security differs markedly from how police forces have historically operated. Moreover, opening spaces for citizen input and oversight could potentially limit an executive’s control over the police, an important political tool. Why, then, do politicians sometimes turn to “participatory security” when reforming the police? This article argues that politicians choose participation as a safety valve to disaggregate societal discontent, particularly when police-society relations are fractious and police capacity and resources are low. Drawing on qualitative evidence from Buenos Aires Province, São Paulo State, and Colombia, this study demonstrates that participation can serve a range of strategic purposes, which, in turn, shape the institutional design of the participatory mechanism.