Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs
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Little evidence that military policing reduces crime or improves human security

May 22, 2023

Nature Human Behaviour

Robert Blair recently co-authored an article published in Nature Human Behaviour titled "Little evidence that military policing reduces crime or improves human security."

Governments in low- and middle-income countries routinely deploy their armed forces for domestic policing operations. Advocates of these policies claim they reduce crime, while detractors argue they undermine human rights. Here we experimentally evaluate a military policing intervention in Cali, Colombia. The intervention involved recurring, intensive military patrols targeting crime hot spots, randomly assigned at the city block level. Using administrative crime and human rights data, surveys of more than 10,000 residents, and firsthand observations from civilian monitors, we find little to no credible evidence that military policing reduced crime or improved perceptions of safety during the intervention. If anything, we find that military policing probably exacerbated crime after the intervention was complete. We also find evidence of increased human rights abuses in our survey data (though not in the administrative data or in the firsthand observations of civilian monitors), largely committed by police officers rather than soldiers. We argue the benefits of military policing are probably small and not worth the costs.