Publication - Policy Brief
Building trust in a reformed security sector: A field experiment in Liberia
Over the past decade, a consensus has emerged among both scholars and policymakers that rule of law is a prerequisite for sustainable peace and economic growth in countries recovering from civil conflict. Rule of law helps ensure security of property rights, builds confidence among businesses and investors and provides mechanisms for resolving disputes without recourse to violence. Yet reestablishing rule of law requires that citizens trust the police and courts as effective, accessible and impartial. In countries wracked by civil war, this is a daunting and sometimes insurmountable task. How can governments restore citizens’ trust in security and justice sector institutions after prolonged periods of state absence, predation and dysfunction?
We address this question in Liberia, a small West African country still recovering from 14 years of civil war. In collaboration with the UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL), the Liberian government recently launched a major expansion of the security and justice sectors through the establishment of five Regional Justice and Security Hubs throughout the country. Equipped with better-trained personnel, improved infrastructure and greater logistical resources, the Hubs constitute an unprecedented increase in the quantity and (potentially) quality of justice and security provision in rural Liberia, where access to the police and courts is especially limited and distrust is especially high. The Hubs are widely considered the cornerstone of the government’s efforts at state consolidation, and a prerequisite for UNMIL’s withdrawal.
Our study experimentally evaluates two mechanisms for increasing citizens’ trust in, compliance with and usage of Hub institutions. First, the Liberian National Police (LNP) is currently conducting “confidence patrols” throughout the jurisdiction of the first Hub. Police officers visit towns and villages, interact with residents and sensitize them to increased police presence in and around their communities. In collaboration with the LNP, we will randomize the geographical and temporal distribution of these confidence patrols over a period of approximately 6 months. Second, the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) has begun disseminating pamphlets with information about the services available at the first Hub, and about recent reforms implemented within the police and courts more generally. We will incorporate distribution of these pamphlets into the confidence patrols to ensure that citizens know how to access Hub institutions, and to encourage them to rely on the police and courts when crimes are committed or disputes arise.
We will evaluate the effectiveness of these mechanisms through a combination of surveys, administrative data collection and behavioral games. Outcomes will include frequency of visits to the Hub; incidence and severity of crime in recipient communities; security of property rights; trust in the police and courts; and reliance on illegal or extrajudicial mechanisms of justice (e.g., mob violence). Our research design will allow us to estimate (1) the direct effects of confidence patrols and pamphlets on these outcomes in recipient communities, (2) the indirect (or “spillover”) effects on outcomes in proximate communities, and (3) the rate at which these effects decay over time. We will disseminate our findings through a combination of academic journal articles, policy reports and consultations with stakeholders in Liberian civil society, government and the UN. We expect the results of our evaluation to inform the Liberian government’s approach to the remaining four Hubs, and to yield insights into the impact of security sector expansion, decentralization and reform on rule of law in war-torn countries more generally.