Book Project

Policing for Peace: Institutions, Expectations, and Violence in Divided Societies


Societies with deep-seated ethnic or religious divisions pose a challenge for governance: how can a single set of institutions govern a fragmented population peacefully and effectively? Institutions which fail to ensure appropriate treatment for all citizens create incentives for marginalized individuals to turn to violence. As the institution responsible for implementing and enforcing laws, often through the use of physical force, the police are especially important for shaping citizens’ relationship with the state. This book explores the role of sectarian inclusion in the police forces in Iraq and Israel, two countries with legacies of violent conflict along identity lines. It argues that integrating minority groups into the rank-and-file of the police addresses common motives for anti-state violence by shaping citizens’ expectations about how they will be treated by the state. Inclusive law enforcement institutions signal that the government intends to treat citizens equally and fairly regardless of group affiliation. Citizens respond by engaging in peaceful political participation rather than violence.

I begin by detailing the process through which citizens form perceptions of law enforcement institutions, the extent to which those perceptions match reality, and the way in which perceptions of the police influence broader attitudes towards the state. I then develop hypotheses about mechanisms through which citizens’ perceptions of police integration shape their expectations about how the state will treat them and, consequently, their willingness to use violence against the state. In particular, I argue that police inclusiveness signals a commitment to fair service provision for all citizens and assures vulnerable groups that the government does not intend to repress them. I test these hypotheses using original survey, experimental, and observational evidence from Iraq and Israel. The results show that citizens interpret police integration as a credible signal that the government does not intend to mistreat them, either through inadequate service provision or through repression. In turn, citizens who perceive the police as integrated are less willing consider using anti-state violence.

The book provides new insights into the makeup and structure of the police in Iraq and Israel. In Iraq, it describes the stages through which the Iraqi police progressed following the 2003 invasion, beginning with de-Baathification and participation in anti-Sunni ethnic cleansing, continuing through the Maliki administration’s begrudging integration of the Sons of Iraq into the official security forces, and concluding with concerted efforts at inclusion and reconciliation under Prime Minister al-Abadi since 2014. The Iraqi case illuminates the way that foreign-imposed police integration can, under the right circumstances, contribute to a durable post-conflict peacekeeping arrangement. In Israel, I compare a unique dataset of police officer religious demographics for every police station in the country from 2008 to 2014 against detailed survey data on Israelis’ perceptions of the police. This novel data paints a picture of the process through which Israelis, both Jewish and non-Jewish, form perceptions about the police which drive their behavior towards the state.

Finally, this book contributes to a rich line of research on institution-building in divided societies. It argues, above all else, that a key function of power sharing institutions is shaping citizens’ expectations over how the state will treat them. These expectations help determine whether they will compete for political influence peacefully within the democratic process or turn to violence to advance their position. To fully address motives for conflict, power sharing arrangements must account not only for institutions that make laws but also for those that enforce them. The visibility of rank-and-file law enforcement officers, and the discretion those officers hold in determining how laws affect different segments of the population in different ways, means that where identity is politically salient, police officers’ demographic makeup sends a powerful signal to citizens about how the state intends to treat them. Institutions which signal a commitment to inclusiveness, fairness, and effective service provision motivate citizens to lay down their arms and participate peacefully in society.