While Nobel Laureate couple Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo are better known for their experiments in alleviating poverty, the couple also co-authored at least a couple of papers on Rajasthan police.
On Monday, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences had announced the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel to Banerjee, Duflo and Michael Kremer “for their experimental approach to alleviating global poverty.” A 2012 study published by National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), “a private, non-profit, non-partisan organisation” headquartered at Massachusetts Avenue in Cambridge deals with improving police performance in Rajasthan through incentives, managerial autonomy and training while another study for NBER, published just last month, deals with efficient deployment of police resources.
Both studies have been co – authored by Banerjee, Duflo, as well as Rajasthan batch IPS officer Nina Singh and Daniel Keniston, an “empirical development economist” whose interest include political economy of India. The 2012 study also included IIM – Calcutta Professor Raghabendra Chattopadhyay.
The 2012 study sought to answer the questions whether good management practices “also apply in government organisations, even the most bureaucratic and hierarchical of them?”
In this study, the researchers conducted two unique large-scale randomised trials, in collaboration with the state police of Rajasthan, and sought to increase police efficiency and improve interactions with the public. In a sample of 162 police stations serving almost 8 million people, the first experiment tested four interventions recommended by police reform panels: limitations of arbitrary transfers, rotation of duty assignments and days off, increased community involvement, and on-duty training. Field experience motivated a novel fifth intervention: “decoy” visits by field officers posing as citizens attempting to register cases, which gave constables incentives to behave more professionally.
Only two of these, training and decoy visits, had robust impacts, as per the paper. The other three, which would have reduced middle managers’ autonomy, “were poorly implemented and ineffective.” Building upon these findings, the researchers designed a second experiment that provided explicit incentives to police officers to carry out sobriety traffic checkpoints and did not rely on middle managers. The study found that incentives of linking good performance with the promise of a transfer from the reserve barracks to a desirable police station posting “worked within existing organisational constraints and had very large effects on performance.”
The September 2019 paper asked “should police activity be narrowly focused and high force, or widely-dispersed but of moderate intensity?” noting that critics of intense “hot spot” policing argue it primarily displaces, not reduces, crime.
The researchers proposed a “multi-armed bandit model of criminal learning and structurally estimate its parameters using data from a randomised controlled experiment on an anti-drunken driving campaign in Rajasthan.”
In each police station, sobriety checkpoints were either rotated among three locations or fixed in the best location, and the intensity of the crackdown was cross-randomised. The study found that “rotating checkpoints reduced night accidents by 17 per cent, and night deaths by 25 per cent, while fixed checkpoints had no significant effects.”