Actionable Evidence: What a Donor Learnt about Addressing Police Corruption
By Schuyler Miller, Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement, with Alessandra Testa, CJL Program
With the responsibility of programming billions in foreign assistance, the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement (INL) is a significant actor in justice sector reform around the world. In response to one major barrier to these reform efforts, INL works with partners to design and implement anti-corruption programs. As part of their commitment to results, INL’s new Office of Knowledge Management recently collected evidence-based findings on effective approaches to police corruption from empirically-tested academic articles and “grey literature” such as program evaluations. INL’s findings highlight what this bilateral donor deemed relevant to their programming and offers researchers insights into how their work can be more useful to justice sector practitioners along with the identification of a few areas in need of further research.
Read our interview with Schuyler Miller, a member of INL’s Office of Knowledge Management, to learn which findings they found most surprising and useful, and which research topics and methods would be of great benefit to INL in the future.
1. Tell us about INL’s Office of Knowledge Management and your evidence review on fighting corruption within the police?
My bureau, the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL), leverages diplomacy and foreign assistance to counter crime, illegal drugs, and instability abroad. In 2019, INL created the Office of Knowledge Management to lead our efforts to better understand and improve the results of our programs and diplomatic engagements.
With this mandate, our office is assembling a range of knowledge products and services to equip INL program managers to design and manage more effective and efficient programs. One of these products began with an evidence review of what is known to work or not work in addressing police bribery and extortion – two key types of corruption – in contexts of widespread and endemic corruption.
To develop the product, the team reviewed everything from program evaluations to randomized control trials. We identified over 200 articles of potential relevance through keyword searches in seven databases, targeted website searches, and practitioner recommendations. Our team then systematically reviewed these articles against a set of inclusion criteria, resulting in 49 articles that met methodological standards and were relevant to the research question. A list of the evidence base may be found here.
Going forward, INL’s new Consensus-Based Learning and Evidence to Advance Reform (CLEAR) project with the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine will support future products with expert consensus on what evidence shows to work in areas of importance to INL foreign assistance programming.
2. What research findings were surprising to you? What was most useful?
Surprise: Increasing police salaries alone can increase corruption
There is a widespread belief among practitioners that low salaries can drive petty bribery. Indeed, evidence from Georgia and Macedonia found raising salaries was part of a holistic reform that reduced police corruption. However, our review indicated the solution is not simple; raising police salaries, alone, does not reduce corruption. In fact, raising salaries can actually increase corruption. For example, one study found doubling police salaries in Ghana in 2010 contributed to a 25 to 28 percent increase (equivalent to ~25 cents) in the value of bribes received by police officers at each individual stop, which increased the total amount given to the police (despite a reduced frequency in requesting bribes).
Surprise: Raising awareness of corruption can backfire
Given the international community’s focus on raising awareness about corruption, we were surprised to find that additional public information about corruption can make citizens more willing to bribe. For example, a field experiment in Costa Rica demonstrated a 28 percent increase in citizen willingness to bribe a police officer after reading a pamphlet with inflated corruption statistics. Practitioners should be aware of this potential risk when they disseminate corruption statistics and consider supplemental messaging on anticorruption efforts.
Useful Lesson: Mechanisms for police accountability
Our research uncovered several concrete mechanisms, both internal and external, that can promote accountability among police systematically. One quantitative study of police reform in Rajasthan, India found police performance improved when police leadership deployed management-supported interventions with rewards or perceived consequences. An example of a reward was performance-based position transfers. One qualitative study in Bogota, Colombia found police accountability improved due to a sequenced policy approach – “lateral reform” – that first built citizen capacity to understand and engage the police (through access to police statistics and information) and then developed police codes of conduct. This approach ensured subsequent administrations had the incentive to maintain reform efforts.
3. What could researchers and evaluators do to produce findings more useful to donors?
Researchers can make their studies more useful to donors by addressing the question: what activities should we support in a given context to try and bring about change? It is not enough to understand what works or does not; donors seek to know how, why, and when to use an approach, which often requires the operational details of interventions.
There were two trends in the research that we found particularly useful:
Measuring Change from Specific Interventions: Studies that tried to measure change in police or citizens’ corrupt behavior following specific interventions were useful because they traced tangible changes relevant to INL’s programming efforts. It is possible to measure change in police performance using publicly reported data or creative methods, such as concealed data collection that meets ethical standards. For instance, the study on police salaries in Ghana used citizen reporting to gather data on traffic bribes paid. The study of police reform in India successfully used “decoy” visits, which entailed police posing as citizens to gather data on police performance in processing cases.
Examining and Testing Causal Relationships: Several articles we read did not attempt to understand or test causal relationships between interventions and change in police corruption. Where we could, we drew on studies that used robust tests or analyses of causal relationships, accounted for other factors, and in some cases, explained how and why the change occurred (or did not). It is helpful for researchers to draw conclusions on the relationship between the specifics of the intervention and the results. These specifics are useful because donors generally fund projects focused on discrete, targeted activities.
4. Were there any areas within police anticorruption that INL identified as lacking in research?
Our project identified three areas that would benefit from additional evidence of the effectiveness of activities in diminishing police corruption:
Police Training: Despite the large amount of donor support for training to change police knowledge, skills, and attitudes about corruption, research in this area is minimal. Given donor investments, additional research on what approaches work best in this area would be useful.
Internal Affairs Reforms: A small number of studies examine if and how a standard tool to address police corruption – internal affairs units – reduce bribery and extortion. While the research we found was promising, we would value more research in this area.
Social Norms Programming: Our evidence review found research indicating social norms influence corrupt behavior. However, we would benefit from more studies testing the effectiveness of interventions to change social norms held by the police or citizens.
About the Author
Schuyler Miller is a Presidential Management Fellow in the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL). He serves in INL’s Office of Knowledge Management supporting program design, implementation, and learning. He is currently on rotation with the U.S. Agency for International Development as an Evidence and Learning Advisor in the Center for Excellence on Democracy, Human Rights, and Governance. Schuyler previously worked for INL as an Anti-Corruption Advisor and for the National Endowment for Democracy’s World Movement for Democracy. He received his MSc in International Politics as a Mitchell Scholar at Trinity College Dublin and a BA in Government and Foreign Affairs with honors from the University of Virginia. You can contact him at MillerSM@state.gov.
Alessandra Testa is a second-year Master’s candidate at The Fletcher School and a former summer research associate at the Corruption, Justice, and Legitimacy Program. Prior to Fletcher, she worked at a Washington, DC-based think tank and at the NATO Defense College in Rome. She has also worked with political asylum seekers at a Mediterranean migration “hotspot” in Brindisi, Italy. Alessandra holds a self-designed dual BA in Arabic and International Studies from The College of New Jersey.