Police Misconduct and Political Legitimacy in Central America
Published online by Cambridge University Press: 02 April 2015
What is the political impact of police corruption and abuse? From the literature, we know that police misconduct destroys people's confidence in police forces and hampers public collaboration with the criminal-justice system; but, what about the political regime, especially in countries striving for democratic governance? Does police wrongdoing affect the legitimacy of the overall regime? Focusing on Central America, this article provides empirical evidence showing that corruption and abuse perpetrated by police officers erode public support for the political order. Results indicate that, under some circumstances, police transgressions can have a greater impact on the legitimacy of the political system than crime or insecurity. They also show that police misconduct not only affects democratising regimes, such as El Salvador and Guatemala, but also consolidated democracies, such as Costa Rica.
¿Cuál es el impacto político de la corrupción y el abuso policial? A partir de diversos textos, sabemos que conductas inapropiadas de la policía destruyen la confianza de la gente en las fuerzas policiacas y dificultan la colaboración pública con el sistema de justicia. Sin embargo ¿en qué queda el régimen político, especialmente en países que se esfuerzan por alcanzar un gobierno democrático? ¿Las faltas policiacas afectan la legitimidad del régimen en su totalidad? Centrándose en América Central este artículo provee datos empíricos que muestran que la corrupción y los abusos cometidos por oficiales policiacos socavan el apoyo público hacia el orden político. Los resultados indican que, bajo ciertas circunstancias, las transgresiones policiacas pueden tener un impacto mayor en la legitimidad del sistema político que el crimen o la inseguridad. También muestran que los abusos policiales no sólo afectan a regímenes en vías de democratización, como El Salvador o Guatemala, sino también a democracias consolidadas como Costa Rica.
Qual é o impacto político do abuso e da corrupção policial? A literatura disponível nos mostra que a má conduta policial destrói a confiança nas forças policiais e dificulta a colaboração do público com o sistema de justiça criminal; porém, o que pode-se dizer do regime político, especialmente em países que lutam por uma governança democrática? A má conduta policial afeta a legitimidade geral do regime político? Focando na América Central, este artigo apresenta evidências empíricas que demonstram que a corrupção e abusos cometidos por policiais corroem o apoio popular à ordem política. O resultados indicam que, sob certas circunstâncias, as transgressões policiais podem ter impacto maior na legitimidade do sistema político que a criminalidade ou a insegurança. Os dados também mostram que a má conduta policial não afeta apenas os regimes em vias de democratização como El Salvador e Guatemala, mas também democracias consolidadas como a Costa Rica.
- Research Article
- Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2015
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30 Marguerite Cawley, 2013, ‘1,400 Honduras Police Suspended for Links to Organized Crime’, In Sight Crime, 6 June 2013, available at www.insightcrime.org/news-briefs/1400-honduras-police-suspended-for-links-to-organized-crime.
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39 Full information regarding the AmericasBarometer and the Latin American Public Opinion Project can be found at http://sitemason.vanderbilt.edu/lapop/about_us.
40 In addition, except for the 2012 surveys in El Salvador and Panama, LAPOP has not included questions regarding interactions between police officers and respondents in recent rounds.
41 The items read as follows: ‘To what extent would you say the current government fights poverty?’; ‘To what extent would you say the current government fights unemployment?’
42 ‘To what extent would you say the current government improves the security of citizens?’
43 ‘To what extent would you say the current government fights government corruption?’, and ‘To what extent would you say the current government promotes and protects democratic principles?’
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45 Questions read as follows: ‘To what extent do you think the courts in [country] guarantee a fair trial? (Read: If you think the courts do not ensure justice at all, choose number 1; if you think the courts ensure justice a lot, choose number 7 or choose a point in between the two.)’; ‘To what extent do you respect the political institutions of [country]?’; ‘To what extent do you feel proud of living under the political system of [country]?’; ‘To what extent do you think that citizens' basic rights are well protected by the political system of [country]?’; and ‘To what extent do you think that one should support the political system of [country]?’
46 Chevigny, ‘The Control of Police Misconduct in the Americas'.
47 Dalton, Democratic Challenges, Democratic Choices.
48 On national economy, respondents were asked: ‘How would you describe the country's economic situation? Would you say that it is very good, good, neither good nor bad, bad, or very bad?’, and ‘Do you think that the country's current economic situation is better than, the same as, or worse than it was 12 months ago?’ On personal economy the questions were: ‘How would you describe your overall economic situation? Would you say that it is very good, good, neither good nor bad, bad, or very bad?’, and ‘Do you think that your economic situation is better than, the same as, or worse than it was 12 months ago?’
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50 The item on crime victimisation read: ‘Now changing the subject, have you been a victim of any type of crime in the past 12 months?’; whereas the item on perceptions of insecurity said: ‘Speaking of the neighbourhood where you live and thinking of the possibility of being assaulted or robbed, do you feel very safe, somewhat safe, somewhat unsafe, or very unsafe?’
51 The Variance Inflation Factor (VIF) and Tolerance statistics were calculated to detect potential problems of multicollinearity in the explanatory variables. In general, the results indicated no significant problems of multicollinearity among the variables used as predictors in the model (VIFs < 2.0; Tolerance > 0.50). However, some correlation was detected only in Honduras and merely between the variables of level of wealth and education, but they did not greatly affect the coefficients. In this case, the VIFs were never higher than 2.1.
53 The specific question was formulated as follows: ‘On this card there is a 1–10 scale that goes from left to right, where 1 means left and 10 means right. Nowadays, when we speak of political leanings, we talk of those who sympathise more with the left and those who sympathise more with the right. According to the meaning that the terms ‘left’ and ‘right’ have for you, and thinking of your own political leanings, where would you place yourself on this scale? Indicate the box that comes closest to your own position’.
54 Seligson and Booth, The Legitimacy Puzzle in Latin America.
55 Álvaro Colom was president of Guatemala from 2008 to 2012.
56 I ran the statistical analyses in Stata 12.
57 It is interesting to see that, except for police involvement in crime, results from Costa Rica do not differ much from the rest, despite its distinctive political trajectory. Unfortunately, with the available data I am unable to offer an explanation in this article.
58 I also tested the correlations between indicators of police misconduct and crime victimization and insecurity. The coefficients returned negligible relationships, no higher than 0.20.
59 For an interesting discussion about this, see Mitchell A. Seligson and John A. Booth, ‘Predicting Coups? Democratic Vulnerabilities, the Americas Barometer and the 2009 Honduran Crisis’, AmericasBarometer Insights, (2009), pp. 1–6.
60 I opted to run individual country models instead of a general regional model because I wanted to test whether police misconduct has the same importance in every Central American nation.
61 Kwak, Dae-Hoon, Miguel, Claudia E. San and Carreon, Diana L., ‘Political Legitimacy and Public Confidence in Police: An Analysis of Attitudes toward Mexican Police’, Policing: An International Journal of Police Strategies & Management, 35: 1 (2012), pp. 124–46CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Tyler, Why People Obey the Law?
62 Note also that having voted for the incumbent party is less important for diffuse support than for specific support. Nevertheless, the effects of ideology remain very strong.
63 In this country, one of the poorest in the Americas, more than 60 per cent of households lived below the poverty line in 2008. See Jake Johnston and Stephan Lefebvre, Honduras Since the Coup: Economic and Social Outcomes (Washington, DC: Center for Economic and Policy Research, 2013), p. 10.
64 In fact, the model picks up some evidence about the increasing political polarisation of Honduran society. Political ideology is strongly associated with diffuse political support, but its effects depend upon the ideological orientation of the respondents: right-leaning people supported the regime, whereas left-leaning Hondurans distrusted it. For an account of police misbehaviour during this period, see: Human Rights Watch, ‘Honduras: Probe Charges of Police Brutality’ (2011), available at http://www.hrw.org/news/2011/03/30/honduras-probe-charges-police-brutality.
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66 Due to space constraints, the estimates are not presented here, but the full models are available from the author upon request.
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72 José Miguel Cruz, ‘The Political Impact of the Police: The Dark and Bright Sides of Police Behavior in Central America’, Paper presented at the conference Crime, Violence, and Insecurity in Central America. Woodrow Wilson Center, Washington, DC, 28 February 2013.