News June 10, 2020

New Research from the Poverty, Violence, and Governance Lab Examines Police Brutality

For the last 10 years, a team of social scientists at the Poverty, Violence, and Governance (PovGov) lab at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies (FSI) have been developing action-oriented research to support human rights and inform policy on the root causes and devastating consequences of violence.
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An LAPD Officer keeps the photographer at bay as they charge anti-Occidental Petroleum demonstrators during the Democratic National Convention August 14, 2000 in Downtown Los Angeles, CA. Photo: Getty Images

For the last 10 years, a team of social scientists at the Poverty, Violence, and Governance (PovGov) lab at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies (FSI) have been developing action-oriented research to support human rights and inform policy on the root causes and devastating consequences of violence. 

PovGov’s latest paper, "Institutionalized Police Brutality: Torture, the Militarization of Security and the Reform of Inquisitorial Justice in Mexico," was co-authored by FSI Senior Fellow Beatriz Magaloni and Luis Rodriguez and appear in the American Political Science Review. They argue that two main factors explain why torture can persist as a generalized practice, even in democratic societies: weak procedural protections and the militarization of policing.

Our work talks about the challenges of dismantling militarized policing strategies, cultures, and violent practices.
Beatriz Magaloni
FSI Senior Fellow

“The abolition of inhumane criminal punishments and torture to extract confessions is evidence of humankind’s progress toward a more enlightened, humane, and peaceful order,” said Magaloni. “Yet we know little of how societies achieve this transition in the first place. Our paper uncovers that despite democratization in Mexico more than 20 years ago, this practice is widely used by police and prosecutors, who have systematically relied on coerced confessions to clear cases and judges allowed these as admissible in court.” 

Another paper, which was also published in the American Political Science Review, titled “Killing in the Slums: The Problems of Social Order, Criminal Governance, and Police Violence in Rio de Janeiro,” focuses on conflicts related to organized crime and gang turf wars.

“In the case of Brazil, our work talks about the challenges of dismantling militarized policing strategies, cultures and violent practices and introduce a form of community-oriented policing in the favelas of Rio, where residents (mostly Black Brazilians) have long experienced the police as an instrument of oppression,” she added. “The paper uncovers important variations in how policing is experienced in these security-deprived communities, and also variation in how police impact local order.” 

For further PovGov research on police violence, read the following:

Victimization by Police and Public Perceptions of Favela Residents

Police Professionalization and Police Performance in the Metropolitan Area of Monterrey, Nuevo León

How Body-worn Cameras Affect the Use of Gunshots, Stop-and Searches and Other Forms of Police Behavior: A Randomized Control Trial in Rio de Janeiro

Beatriz Magaloni

Senior Fellow at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies
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About the Program on Poverty and Governance

In its broadest sense, development requires not simply sustained, robust levels of overall economic growth, but diminishing (and ultimately eliminating) absolute poverty and profound economic inequalities. Effective public action and good governance are essential to bringing about the conditions that create wealth, allow markets to function, and eliminate poverty.