POLICING & CRIMINAL JUSTICE
Police Decentralization, Fragmentation, and Implications for Patterns of Violence: Insights from Iraq
American Political Science Association
Comparative Politics Newsletter (2020)
Recent episodes of severe police repression and violence against protesters in diverse contexts including Hong Kong, the United States, and Iraq have brought new urgency to longstanding calls for reform and in some cases more fundamental structural changes including abolition of existing police institutions (McLeod 2018). In times of social crisis and conflict between states and opposition movements, police--as “the most visible daily manifestation of the state” (Mani 1999, 22)--are also often the most visible instrument of state repression. But the police, and state security institutions in general, are not monolithic and there is considerable variation in the extent to which individual police officers and units use excessive force against civilians who engage in mass mobilization to express political grievances. Some individuals and units are more abusive than others, while some may try to diffuse violence or intervene to protect civilians. Variation in patterns of police violence has important implications for the study of crises. Sociologists, historians, and scholars of American politics and law have made important contributions to the study of police violence (Sierra-Arévalo 2016; Soss and Weaver 2017; Butler 2018; Prowse et al. 2020), but there is a need for more research in the field of comparative politics on the determinants of excessive force as well as restraint in other contexts. In this essay, I argue that two factors – decentralization and fragmentation of state security institutions – have interacted to shape the recent pattern of police violence in Iraq, where federal-level riot police and SWAT forces used lethal force against protesters in 2019, ultimately killing more than 600 people. However, not all security forces participated in the repression. In contrast with the violent conduct of federal-level police, local community police officers visited the demonstrations to provide water and pamphlets affirming the right to peaceful protest, telling protesters that they were there to protect them. I suggest that two factors--fragmentation and decentralization--help to explain this pattern of violence with data from a door-to-door household survey on perceptions of police that I conducted through a research partnership between the International Organization for Migration and Yale Law School’s Center for Global Legal Challenges (Revkin and Aymerich 2020).
Perceptions of Security and Police in Iraq:
Baseline Survey Findings
(with Olga Aymerich)
The International Organization for Migration and Yale Law School's Center for Global Legal Challenges (April 2020)
This report by IOM Iraq and Yale Law School Center for Global Legal Challenges aims to shed light on the inter-related security and governance factors at play in three diverse communities in Iraq – Jubeil (Anbar), Hamdaniyah (Ninewa) and Baradiyah (Basra) – as a way to contextualize and evaluate the effectiveness of community policing programming. This baseline study evaluates civilians’ attitudes and behaviors towards providers of security and justice; their perceptions of the legitimacy of the Iraqi government; police officers’ attitudes and behaviors toward civilians; and the prevalence of crime and violence. The study finds that communities directly affected by the ISIL crisis perceive the greatest relative improvement in security, while governance and economic issues are at the top of community concerns across all communities. The survey results also indicated heavy reliance on informal actors such as tribes and religious leaders for informal mediation and dispute resolution. Additionally, in all three communities, a majority of respondents would not allow female family members to report problems to the police on their own.
How Does Punishment Affect Reintegration of
Former Offenders? Evidence from Iraq
(with Kristen Kao)
How does variation in the severity of punishment affect public opinion toward the reintegration of former nonviolent offenders? We study this question in the context of Iraq, where the United States has been heavily involved in the design and development of criminal justice institutions since overthrowing Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship in 2003. Building upon extensive fieldwork and interviews in Iraq, we designed a survey experiment—a method developed in the social sciences but not yet widely used by legal scholars—that randomly varied the severity of sentences in hypothetical scenarios of nonviolent Islamic State “collaborators” (e.g., cleaners, cooks, and wives of fighters) to estimate the causal effects of punishment on attitudes toward reintegration. We find that a long prison sentence (15 years) does not increase the likelihood of participants’ willingness to allow the reintegration of former offenders, but a noncarceral punishment (community service) has a small but statistically significant positive effect. Our most striking finding is that noncarceral and community-based justice mechanisms can significantly increase the likelihood of successful reintegration after punishment. Fifteen percent of respondents who were initially opposed to the return of former offenders into their communities said that they would be willing to change their judgment and support reintegration if they were asked to do so by a tribal or religious leader, or if the offender completes a noncarceral rehabilitation program. These findings suggest that noncarceral, restorative, and community-based justice mechanisms may be equally or even more effective than long-term incarceration for achieving the objectives of rehabilitation and eventual reintegration of former nonviolent offenders. Our study also advances the field of comparative empirical legal scholarship by providing an innovative experimental research design that can be replicated by scholars studying other contexts including the United States to help answer important questions about the causal effects of criminal justice policies.