Friday, October 12, 2012

The Law and Economics of Police Compensation

The National Police Deputy Chief Nanan Sukarna on Thursday admits that there are corruption practices in his organization, as quoted by One of the many factors he cited was inadequate salary for police officers.

"How should we ask them to not stay clear of corruption if their salary is not enough to pay for their children's school?" he said.

From an economics perspective, this is an interesting topic. It is widely known by the public that being a police officer who only depends on salary will not make them rich or even survive day-to-day living. But despite such truth, why are there still many people apply to be one? If the job and payment are that bad, why do they pursue such career?

A case like this offers several explanations. First, it might be possible that the majority of people who apply to become a police officer put more value on the authority attached to their position. This means that for these people, the fact that they gain such position is more valuable than getting a civilian job — even with higher salary. Thus, there is a trade-off between authority and money.

Second, it might also be possible that the applicants believe their comparative advantage is to become a police officer and they will not be able to compete with other people in doing their jobs. As a result, receiving low payment is a risk they must bear due to their own limitation.

Third, worst case scenario, the applicants might see a possibility of becoming rich in the future, provided they can use their power for their own benefits. Being underpaid can be considered as an investment that must be sacrificed in order to gain more money in the future.

Last but not least, it is always possible that there are some people out there who pick the career as a temporary job until they find a better job offering. These people might be clueless about their choice of life or simply see the police badge as a stepping stone into something bigger.

Based on the possibilities above, we have two complex issues to be solved if we want to reduce the level of corruption in the police body.

First of all, we don't know to what extent the trade-off between salary and authority will remain useful to control the behavior of the police. Will eventually the basic needs of life defeat the need to obtain power and respect in the society? I'd say yes.

Then, how does one control authority? Without any proper check and balance mechanism, the ability to abuse the authority would increase significantly. Thus, the fact that they can't get much money from their salary would be meaningless since they can get more money from abusing their authority anyway.

In solving the above issues, although its effect is limited, increasing the overall compensation of police officers might be a good start. It must be combined with good indoctrination on the intrinsic value of becoming a police officer and strict sanctions for violation of code of conduct.

Otherwise, increasing the salary would be useless since they can get higher income from doing side jobs and abusing their authority — and they have a lot of incentives to choose that way. In such case, we will end up wasting more money for paying higher compensation, but with worse results.

If we do choose to increase the overall compensation, there is a budgetary problem. Asking the government to simply increase their salary might be problematic if the government does not have enough fund. So, what if we sell certain services of the police to private parties but with different price tag?

Although this might be a good way to raise funds, it will also create discrimination of service. I fear that the costs of such discrimination might outweigh the intended benefits.
Once the police service can be legally bought by certain party with higher price, the police will have more incentives to act for a certain group instead of the society and thus they will no longer be different from private security officers or troops.

It would be nice if they have enough officers to satisfy the entire need of the society and the higher price for special services can be considered as a subsidy from the rich to the poor. But if the supply of police officers is limited, it will be counterproductive.

Another thing to be considered is to let criminals, especially those that are involved in financial crimes and corruption cases, to bear the costs of legal enforcement. This can be in the form of giving a portion of the recovered assets or fines for such crime to the police officers who successfully solve the criminal case.

Of course, the case must be legitimate and any abuse of authority in getting the additional benefits must be strictly punished (including taking back all of the profits made by the officers from such illegitimate case) to avoid any incentives to bring false claim to innocent people. 

My final suggestion is to make the resignation process easier within the police corps. Considering the fact that the compensation is not high enough, it might be better to let officers leave as soon as possible once they feel that this is not the right job for them.

This might save a lot of money and reduce the incentives to corrupt from the very beginning. If you realize that being a police is not the right job for you and yet you have no way out, what would you do? Could you stay sane or would you succumb to the temptation of corruption?

Men are weak, so we should not put too much burden on them.


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