Institutions in developing countries, particularly those inherited from the colonial period, are often thought to be subject to strong inertia. This study presents the results of a unique randomized trial testing whether these institutions can be reformed through incremental administrative change. The police department of the state of Rajasthan, India collaborated with researchers at US and Indian universities to design and implement four interventions to improve police performance and the public’s perception of the police in 162 police stations (covering over one-fifth of the State’s police stations and personnel): (1) placing community observers in police stations; (2) a freeze on transfers of police staff; (3) in‐service training to update skills; and (4) weekly duty rotation with a guaranteed day off per week. These reforms were evaluated using data collected through two rounds of surveys including police interviews, decoy visits to police stations, and a large-scale public opinion and crime victimization survey—the first of its kind in India.
That is the abstract of the new paper "Can Institutions Be Reformed from Within? Evidence from a Randomized Experiment with the Rajasthan Police" by Banerjee et al (2012).
The results suggest that two of the interventions, the freeze on transfers and the training, were effective in improving police effectiveness and public image. Both increased the reported satisfaction of crime victims with the police investigation, and the freeze on transfers also decreased the number of respondents who report fearing the police. Interestingly, the visits of decoy surveyors pretending to register crimes at police stations, which were initially conceived of primarily as a method of data collection, also had an effect of their own on police behavior-- suggesting that a simple increase in monitoring may have a positive effect on police performance. The other reforms showed no robust effects.
These results could be implemented in other countries . . .. . . Why, then, were some interventions implemented and others not? A common thread of the three interventions that were actually implemented is that they were “top-down,” and required little cooperation from the ground staff: transfers must be approved at police headquarters (although there is considerable pressure from outside for some transfers), and training orders were dispatched from above. The decoy visits were performed by an independent company supervised by J-PAL. In contrast, the two unsuccessful interventions required effort and cooperation from the station chiefs (and, in the case of the community observers, participation at the community level).