Quarterly Journal of Political Science > Vol 17 > Issue 2

Policing Ethnicity: Lab-in-the-Field Evidence on Discrimination, Cooperation, and Ethnic Balancing in the Liberian National Police

Robert A. Blair, Brown University, Political Science and Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs, USA, robert_blair@brown.edu , Sabrina M. Karim, Cornell University, USA, smk349@cornell.edu , Michael J. Gilligan, New York University, Political Science, USA, michael.gilligan@nyu.edu , Kyle Beardsley, Duke University, Political Science, USA, kyle.beardsley@duke.edu
Suggested Citation
Robert A. Blair, Sabrina M. Karim, Michael J. Gilligan and Kyle Beardsley (2022), "Policing Ethnicity: Lab-in-the-Field Evidence on Discrimination, Cooperation, and Ethnic Balancing in the Liberian National Police", Quarterly Journal of Political Science: Vol. 17: No. 2, pp 141-181. http://dx.doi.org/10.1561/100.00019226

Publication Date: 28 Apr 2022
© 2022 R. A. Blair et al.
Experimental economics,  Security,  Organizational behavior,  War,  Civil conflict
Policesecurity sector reformpower sharingethnic conflictcivil warslab-in-the-field experiments


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In this article:
Professionalization and Cooperation 
Professionalization and Discrimination 
Civil War and Ethnic Balancing in Liberia 
Sampling Frame and Randomization 
Focus Groups 


Ethnic balancing in the security sector increasingly accompanies power sharing agreements after civil war, but new challenges arise as these institutions must sustain cooperation amidst increasing ethnic heterogeneity. Inclusive involvement in security sector institutions may reduce discrimination against minority groups. But pressure to assimilate may also foment "loyalty conflict" among minority group members, exacerbating discrimination. We test these competing logics using surveys and lab-in-the-field experiments with teams of Liberian National Police officers. Consistent with a logic of loyalty conflict, we find that teams with minority police officers are more rather than less discriminatory against minority civilians. This effect is not driven by heterogeneity, but rather by the presence of minority police officers per se. We also find that teams that include minority police officers are no more or less cooperative than those that do not, and that heterogeneous teams are no more or less cooperative than homogeneous ones. We argue that these effects are likely a result of professionalization processes that encourage conformity and loyalty to an existing police subculture.