Community policing in multiples developing countries can improve police compliance but does little to reduce crime, a new study shows


A series of randomized control trials in six countries evaluate whether community policing improves security

A vexing question facing all countries is how they can best reduce crime and improve public security? A common response is to deploy police, including sending officers to work in affected communities. Yet new research published on 26 November in one of the world’s leading scientific journals, Science, suggests that “community policing” may not deliver the intended outcomes. The study, to which the Igarape Institute contributed, examines the experiences of six community policing efforts around the world. The authors found that community policing interventions increased police compliance, but did not appreciably reduce crime and rarely improved citizen trust in law enforcement. 

The article – “Community Building and Policing in the Global South” – was a joint initiative involving over two dozen researchers. It features findings from six randomized-control trials of community policing initiatives in Santa Catarina, Brazil; Medellín, Colombia; Monrovia, Liberia; Sorsogon Province, Philippines; selected rural sites in Uganda; and two Punjab province districts, in Pakistan. In each case, authors collaborated with law enforcement agencies to help design and implement appropriate community policing programs. According to one of the authors, Chief Innovation Officer at Igarape Institute Dr. Robert Muggah, “there appears to be no reduction in crime or improvement of trust in police in areas receiving community policing”. 

There are several reasons why community policing – including local officer recruitment and training, neighborhood foot patrols, town hall meetings and problem-oriented interventions – seem to fail. The causes are varied, but tend to concentrate around issues of limited resources, a lack of prioritization for reform and the rapid rotation of officers. According to Dr. Muggah, “these factors undermine the implementation of community policing, in contrast to other parts of the world where it has been successful, including North America and Western Europe.” The article is one of the largest of its kind, drawing on interviews with over 18,300 citizens and more than 870 police officers over a six year period. 

In Brazil, the article examined community policing in the relatively wealthy southern state of Santa Catarina. Citizens there reported persistently high crime rates as well as overly aggressive actions by the military police force. While there have been some effective policing activities in the state, it appears that community policing has generated less obvious impact. Community policing is hardly new to Brazil: it has been implemented in eight states and the capital, Brasilia, since 1985. “The results of the study suggest that community policing requires data-driven and evidence-based monitoring and evaluation, including in areas where it is considered a resounding success”, says Dr. Muggah. Additional researchers from the Igarape Institute involved in the study include Thiemo Fetzer, Barbara Fernandes Silva, and Pedro Souza.  

The article identifies several disconcerting outcomes of community policing. In contrast to “hot spot policing”, community policing not only has limited impact on crime, it also appears to displace crime to adjacent neighborhoods. What is more, the duration of police intervention appears to have generated limited effect on overall crime rates. For example, the authors detected no differences in crime reduction in communities with short term community policing (Pakistan, 6 months) compared to those with longer interventions (Philippines, 17 months).

These null findings were consistent across varying crime landscapes: community policing did not lead to the expected changes in any of the six sites surveyed. However, the authors did find some evidence that community policing brought residual improvements in public  attitudes toward the police. In Liberia and Pakistan, for instance, community policing improved the visibility of law enforcement efforts, while citizens of Colombia saw greater police capacity.

The historical record on the efficacy of community policing initiatives is mixed. Studies in North America and Western Europe typically show positive effects, including measurable crime reduction. The Community Policing Metaketa initiative, which supported the research with funding from the UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, seeks to dig deeper by coordinating six research projects in varying global communities. The goal is to test whether an informal model of police-community interaction could raise the level of trust in the police, increase police-community cooperation, and drive down crime rates.

Read the article


To learn more about the Brazil case study go to: Access Brazil case study

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The Igarapé Institute is a leading independent think and do tank focused on public, climate and digital security. The Institute is committed to proposing data-driven and evidence-informed solutions and strategic partnerships to deliver progressive change. The organization drives positive transformation through applied research, the design of new technologies and proactive communication to shape public policy and influence decision-makers . The Institute works with governments, the private sector and civil society to design data-based solutions. Prospect Magazine designated the Institute  the world’s best Human Rights NGO in 2018 and the top think tank working on social policy in 2019.The Institute has also been cited as among the top NGOs in Brazil for several years. 

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