Yale University Leads Investigation of How to Build Effective Police Organizations

A major research collaboration involving the Yale School of Management (SOM), Mexico’s National Commission for Security, the Mexico City Police Department, and Innovations for Poverty Action will study how to create effective, resilient, and trusted police organizations in Mexico. The project, led by Rodrigo Canales, an associate professor of organizational behavior at Yale SOM, recently received a major grant from the Police Professionalization Initiative of the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs that will fund a three-year effort engaging dozens of researchers.

The project takes a distinctive approach, based on the premise that police forces are, first and foremost, organizations. It will study the characteristics of federal, state, and local police organizations, including command structures, incentives, training, and hiring practices, and other features of organizational design that systematically lead to better results by enhancing operational effectiveness, increasing organizational resilience, and building trust with the community. The researchers seek to gather data and evaluate police programs using rigorous empirical methods. They will work with government partners to rigorously test and then implement practices that the research identifies as critical or particularly promising. 

According to Canales, creating effective police forces is one of the biggest challenges that Mexico, and the broader region, is facing.

“In Mexico, organized crime has taken advantage of locations where we lack resilient, effective police forces, and the resulting violence is a pressing public safety issue. In cases of strong police organizations, there is the added challenge of maintaining citizen engagement and trust,” Canales said. “When you spend time with police officers, you get touched by the immense challenges they face. So, the question is how to create organizational structures where they can do their best, and how to reclaim the police organization for the vast majority of police officers who are really trying to do a good job. We are fortunate to have two committed, capable, and engaged partners in Mexico who understand the depth of the issues and are genuinely invested in the pursuit of better alternatives.”

Canales has already begun the research and secured commitments from partner organizations. The project will proceed in two complementary streams. 

The first stream will be an empirical examination of the organizational characteristics of effective police forces. The research team will conduct extensive interviews with experts with direct experience in the field; build a comprehensive database of local police organizational capabilities in Mexico and their effects on economic, social, and institutional outcomes; and generate a series of case studies to better understand how specific organizational capabilities translate into better outcomes, as well as the process through which those capabilities can be developed. The output of this stream will include a systematized database of police organizations in Mexico that will be available to researchers and policymakers, and a slate of evidence-informed recommendations for designing police organizations and improving policies, regulations, and practices.

This first part will be conducted in partnership with the National Commission  for Security, the governing body within the Mexican Federal Government charged with the development of national public safety strategies and policies, as well as the coordination with state-level agencies. Luis Esteban Islas, head of the Planning Unit within the CNS, explained:

“This important research will help improve the strategic coordination between federal and local policies to develop the needed capacities to be more effective in diminishing the violence and creating trusted institutions. The findings will be socialized through the National Conference of Chiefs of Police and will help define the national guidelines for the model of policing.”

The second stream will focus on interventions to improve citizen engagement, perception, and trust. In partnership with the Mexico City Police, the researchers will conduct randomized trials of interventions designed to improve engagement and trust between the police force and Mexico City residents. Results will be evaluated for effectiveness and successful innovations will be put into practice in partnership with the Mexico City Police. The project will produce toolkits for the development of proven, effective organizational practices that can be easily translated to other contexts.

First Superintendent José Gil García from the Mexico City Police expressed that “this research program is not only about developing a better relationship with citizens, which is critical for any police organization. It is also about changing the paradigm of policing to adjust it to the changing needs and expectations of a modern democracy. This is a challenge shared by all modern police organizations.”

Other Yale scholars involved in the project as advisors and contributors include Yale SOM professors Amy Wrzesniewski, James Baron, and Mushfiq Mobarak, as well as Yale Law School’s Tom Tyler. Innovations for Poverty Action is providing substantial operational support. Mexican organizational partners include the Mexican Institute for Competitiveness and PIDES Social Innovation.

Yale SOM’s deputy dean, Edieal Pinker, said, “This research promises to make important contributions, both in immediate practical terms and by improving our understanding of how organizations function in different environments. Professor Canales’ results-oriented, highly collaborative work is one example of the meaningful impact Yale research is having around the globe.”