Using the Mexican experience in the centralization of public security, this paper proposes federalism as a model of a vertical control of powers and, more importantly, a way of promoting self-governance, citizen participation and, through them, local security. We argue that while federalism as an organizational model of the State does not guarantee self-governance or citizen participation, it can help promote them and through their enhancement, improve security at the community level. Since 2006, the Mexican government has implemented a security strategy that has increasingly centralized public security decisions. The strategy relies on the deployment of federal security forces (Army, Navy and Federal Police) across the country, to replace or support state and local police. The results have been mostly negative. On one hand, there has been an exacerbation of violence in the country, including many incidents in which violence was used disproportionately or illegally by state officials against civilians. On the other, the use of federal forces has undermined the federalist regime which serves as a check on the exercise of power by federal authorities, thus undermining state and local institutional capacities. The lessons from the Mexican case can be useful for other federal systems responding to organized crime.