This research project studied a community policing intervention that addressed the challenge of building trust and cooperation between police and citizens in Uganda. The project was carried out by researchers Robert Blair (Brown University), Guy Grossman (University of Pennsylvania), and Anna Wilke (Columbia University) in partnership with the Youth Integrated Development Organization (YIDO).
The study utilized a community policing model often seen in the United States and Western European countries, in which police are often integrated into the community and regularly patrol the same neighborhoods in order to build trust. The intervention for this project built on this model and included two primary treatment arms. The first arm consisted of police attending town hall meetings and conducting door-to door visits to build citizen rapport. Additionally, community watch teams were formed to establish a clear crime reporting channel for civilians, and citizens were given information on how to report police abuses. In the second arm, a subset of treatment villages received additional training on how to establish effective community watch teams.
While the results of this study have not been finalized, researchers are focused on the implications this intervention may have on the levels of reported crime, community trust in the police, and citizens’ overall sense of security.
In the sections that follow, the brief outlines YIDO’s decision to partner with the researchers, their working relationship, and recommendations for future researcher / implementing partner collaborations. This brief is based on interviews with researcher Robert Blair and Ronald Ruyombya, Head of Policing Strategy Analysis and Practice at YIDO.
Decisions to Partner with the Research Team
For YIDO, the decision to partner with the research team was an easy one—according to Ruyombya, “[YIDO was] able to bring in outside expertise to investigate an important question while also increasing expertise within our own organization.” Because the researchers came in with their own funding from the EGAP Metaketa Initiative, it made the partnership possible and, as a result, “some of the staff learned a lot from working with [the research team].” The research team set high expectations for the quality of the project and, after working with them, Ruyombya said that YIDO staff had new ideas about how to scale the project into additional studies.
YIDO and the research team worked together to develop training manuals and worked with Ugandan police officials to ensure that officers would be properly trained to go door-to-door. During their visits, officers would have conversations with citizens about issues such as sports, their daily lives, and other topics unrelated to crime. Before this, Ruyombya explained, police officers would only go door-to-door when looking for information about criminals. “But the idea of asking police officers to talk to villagers about, for example, the premier football game, and not just ask for criminal information [created a] continuous feeling in community members that the police are not harassing them and that they can go to the police more to report [crimes],” Ruyombya added. This was a revelation for YIDO staff, who were used to working with and training police officers to focus only on criminal activity.
Working with the Team
The research team and YIDO were in regular contact throughout the project, which created strong communication channels and mitigated many issues that could have arisen. Additionally, according to Blair, YIDO was especially pivotal in cementing relations with the Ugandan National Police, sometimes waiting for hours at police headquarters to get meetings with officials.
Managing the logistics of the implementation proved challenging at times. For example, the research team had to be aware of the limited financial and personnel capacity of their implementing partners and the often complicated relationship with Ugandan police, where it can be difficult to get approval for studies on policing and administrative hiccups can set a project back. YIDO helped set up meetings with police officials to share details of the project in order to develop a rapport between them and the research team. Ruyombya explained that most of this rapport building was done by clearly expressing the goals of the project and establishing trust in the research team.
Many of the realities and limitations of on-the-ground policing became apparent while working with YIDO. For example, the research team originally planned to include night patrols as part of the study but, after discussing this option with YIDO staff, they understood that it was not feasible due to a shortage of officers and for security reasons.
Dissemination of Findings
While the data is still being analyzed, Blair mentioned that the intervention would likely yield null results. This may be due to the short timeline of the intervention and measuring outcomes at a less-than-ideal time. However, Ruyombya added that anecdotally, the intervention may still make a difference, especially for particularly vulnerable groups. Ruyombya explained that he expected to see a positive change for women facing domestic violence or children reporting rights violations.
In reflecting on the project, Blair said that if they were to do the project again, it would be beneficial for the research team to have a more constant presence on the ground early in the intervention. “A couple of times we went and the project had more or less stagnated; it would have been good to find out that information and to have someone on the ground earlier,” Blair stated.
Blair also added that they might have seen a higher rate of compliance among officers if they had provided a greater incentive for compliance. Ruyombya agreed, saying that they were asking the few officers who were in some precincts to take on a lot of extra work for no extra compensation.
Lastly, Blair suggested that having a longer timeline for the project would have been helpful in two key ways. First, it would have been useful to have more time to develop the relationship with the Ugandan police. The process of approvals was complicated and involved multiple offices, and the project team often had to really hustle to stick to the timeline. Second, if the experiment had run longer, results may have been more significant, but due to the short timeframe, it was hard to expect genuine change.