Here is a list from the most to the least intimidating police & security forces in Quito:
#1) Ecuadorian Secret Service (?)
Even though I’m not sure of their official title, the police who guard the government buildings are the most intimidating. Yes, it is definitely their machine guns.
#2) Ecuadorian Military Police
Note: I am talking about the guy on the right. In light camo uniforms these guys always look tough.
#3) Ecuadorian National Police
These guys are the sharpest looking of the bunch. With grey camo, black boots, black helmets, black bullet-proof vests, and motorcycles. These guys look tough.
#4) Ecuadorian National Police (brown uniforms)
I don’t know why some of the national police go without the tough looking camouflage, but these guys always look pretty darn tough.
#5) Tourist Police
Don’t let the neon yellow vests fool you. Quito has a special police force that is charged just with looking out for tourists. (And they pack heat.) Earlier this morning I talked with a young woman who is staying with her mother-in-law at the same hostal where I am. She said that Quito is much safer than it was five years ago. There is some local controversy over investing money to increase tourism that gets poured back into increased funding for this department.
#6) Quito Metropolitan Police
You can recognize them because they are always wearing dark blue and they prominently display the nightstick.
#7) Transit Police
Don’t let the yellow vests confuse you with the Tourism Police. The transit police attempt to control the crazy local traffic.
#8) Public Transportation Police
These officers serve and protect the city’s bus stations. I’ve only observed them being extremely helpful to people (like me) who have difficulty getting the machine at the entrance to accept my quarter. (It only costs 25 cents to ride as far as you want to ride on the city’s busses.
#9) Private Security Guards
This ranking is somewhat conflicted. Some of the security guards I’ve seen (at banks and in front of stores with expensive merchandise) look extremely tough, replete with bullet-proof vests, prominently displayed weaponry, and a very distinguished uniform. There seems to be a hierarchy of for-hire security guards. There are top notch firms, lower echelon firms, and independent contractors. You have to take a look at the uniforms closely… here is why:
As I was plotting out this exercise in photo-journalism I thought that I would have to take these pictures furtively and clandestinely. Then I ran into Phil from Chicago who was traveling with his Swedish girlfriend Lina and their Polish travel buddy, Tom, they had met at their hostel. Phil told me two things that are pretty crazy. Phil and Lina had just come from Colombia where Phil said he had stumbled upon a uniform store for security guards. The crazy (and scary) thing about the store, according to Phil, was that you could buy pretty much anything, including an authentic looking police uniform. You could even buy bars and stars if you wanted to seem to have a higher rank. Phil said this is the place where you go if you are a security guard, especially if you are working as an “independent contractor.” Pay attention to the unmatched pants and shirt in #9 above. Or, check out the CIA agent on the left in #2.
Phil told me a second story about Colombia. He said that he was walking through a part of town when he came upon an unruly demonstration with riot police monitoring it. He asked one of the members of the riot police if he could take a picture. According to Phil, who may exaggerate just a tad, the officer handed Phil his shield and helmet and took Phil’s picture lined up with the rest of the riot squad. He claims it is now his Facebook profile picture, but I don’t have any way to verify this. Anyways, Phil told me to just go up to the officers and guards and ask to take their picture. Most of them will smile, puff out their chests, and gladly oblige.
* Aside from being assisted with paying my fare for the bus, I've not had any interactions with any law enforcement agents or security guards in Ecuador.