Dr Thomas Akoensi speaks on public satisfaction with police at the European Society of Criminology conference, Cardiff (Wales)

Ghanaians are less likely to be satisfied with the police when they take bribes from citizens. However, when the bribe produces positive results (e.g. catching a thief) it leads to an increase in satisfaction. That is the conclusion in ‘Determinants of Police Satisfaction in a developing country: A Randomised Vignette Study’, a study presented at the just ended European Society of Criminology conference in Cardiff, Wales.

Two criminologists— Dr Thomas Akoensi (Fellow at African Institute of Crime, Policy and Governance Research, and lecturer at Kent University) and Dr Amy Nivette (Utrecht University) —analysed data from a household survey of 559 residents drawn from varying neighbourhoods of differing socio-economic status and ethnicity located in Accra (viz, Nima, Chorkor, Teshie-Nungua Estates and East-Legon). They randomly assigned residents to receive scenarios depicting real-life citizen-police interactions. Among the scenarios were interactions in which police took bribes but proved incapable of solving a crime and those in which police took bribes but solved a crime. The results showed that satisfaction with police was higher among those who were exposed to the bribery and effectiveness condition compared to the bribery and ineffectiveness condition.

The implications of the study’s findings are that police reform aimed at improving citizens satisfaction with the police and ultimately police legitimacy should not focus on improving the way the police treat citizens alone (i.e. procedural justice) but should concurrently address police effectiveness at fighting crime and establishing a baseline of security and safety for its citizens (i.e. police effectiveness). It appears that some citizens are willing to bribe the police to solve their crime problems for them; what they do not like is bribery that produces no results. This has an important implication for efforts at improving police integrity and public confidence. The results suggest fresh thinking in current efforts at eliciting public support against police corruption and improving confidence in the police.

The results of the study, funded by the Oxford University Press John Fell Fund, are to be published in Policing and Society: An International Journal. The authors hope that they will be able to secure more funding to continue with the next phase of their research by replicating their study in other parts of the country.