This paper confronts the challenge of providing policing services that ensure citizen safety in ‘‘weak states’’ – countries in which police have historically been ineffective and/or repressive in their dealings with ordinary citizens. It looks at endogenous and exogneous factors in weak state environments that deflect police institutions from providing a threshold of public safety. The paper argues that states should, and must, retain primacy in ensuring public safety, despite and often because of the alternatives to state police. It concludes with a plea for the need for more ‘‘grey analysis’’ in making sense of policing challenges in weak states. It is critical of human rights analyses that adopt a Manichean perspective of the challenges.