Why does Nicaragua have less violent crime than Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras? All these countries underwent political transitions in the 1990s. Many explanations point to the legacies of war, socioeconomic underdevelopment, and neoliberal structural reforms. However, these arguments do not fully explain why, despite economic reforms conducted throughout the region, war-less Honduras and wealthier Guatemala and El Salvador have much more crime than Nicaragua. This article argues that public security reforms carried out during the political transitions shaped the ability of the new regimes to control the violence produced by their own institutions and collaborators. In the analysis of the crisis of public security, it is important to bring the state back. The survival of violent entrepreneurs in the new security apparatus and their relationship with new governing elites foster the conditions for the escalation of violence in northern Central America.