Blog by Aaron Vansintjan: “…As she concluded in her autobiographical reflections published two years before she died in 2012, “For policing, increasing the size of governmental units consistently had a negative impact on the level of output generated as well as on efficiency of service provision… smaller police departments… consistently outperformed their better trained and better financed larger neighbors.”
But why did this happen? To explain this, Ostrom showed how, in small communities with small police forces, citizens are more active in monitoring their neighborhoods. Officers in smaller police forces also have more knowledge of the local area and better connections with the community.
She also found that larger, more centralized police forces also have a negative effect on other public services. With a larger police bureaucracy, other local frontline professionals with less funding — social workers, mental health support centers, clinics, youth support services — have less of a say in how to respond to a community’s issues such as drug use or domestic violence. The bigger the police department, the less citizens — especially those that are already marginalized, like migrants or Black communities — have a say in how policing should be conducted.
This finding became a crucial step in Ostrom’s groundbreaking work on how communities manage their resources sustainably without outside help — through deliberation, resolving conflict and setting clear community agreements. This is what she ended up becoming famous for, and what won her the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences, placing her next to some of the foremost economists in the world.
But her research on policing shouldn’t be forgotten: It shows that, when it comes to safer communities, having more funding or larger services is not important. What’s important is the connections and trust between the community and the service provider….(More)”.