Game theory in Policing!

 I’m currently reading one extremely interesting book ‘Super Cooperators’ by Martin Novak. It’s about the mathematical thinking on cooperation as a successful evolutionary strategy for the human race. The Prisoner’s Dilemma, which is an interestingly simple depiction of the complicated choices to cooperate or squeal (compete), is a great model for understanding how cooperation is the best strategy for the two players taken together. Most interestingly, the book draws parallels with repeatedly played Prisoner’s Dilemma games, for showing cooperation as the best possible strategy in evolution of humans since that gives the greatest chances of a successful outcome for a large group like a species. 

Though self interest is inbuilt in any living creature, communities which use cooperation and generosity towards each other as a driving force in their interactions, can be mathematically shown to succeed in the evolutionary scale. The book goes on to describe how the repeatedly played game (a parallel for interpersonal and inter group interactions in an evolving species) shows breaking down of the success of cooperative strategies at some point in the game, by selfish interest, and after that again cooperative strategies start succeeding. These cyclical changes in the evolution of human race as described mathematically in the book through game theory are almost religious in their depiction! 

I was fascinated with the throw of thought in this book(still reading!). If cooperation is indeed a strategy for successful evolution of a species, it can surely have many advantages even as a short term strategy for us in one generation. It can also turn out to be a beneficial strategy in inter-nation conflicts, instead of escalation to competitive conflict. Maybe more mathematicians need to be employed to work on these problems in our Defence MinistriesšŸ˜Š! 

For its applications in the field of policing, is there a significant payoff of better security if police promote activities for increasing the feeling of cooperation in conflicting communities? Also would we see something significantly beneficial if the same principle is extended to criminal or deviant individuals, and prisons can become ‘help and care’ centres for criminality?

Such strategies are seen as ‘soft’ and not deemed useful enough. Consequently, the few programs that may be built around these themes do not get too many champions and are also not supported with deserving funds. Clearly, fear, aggression and competitiveness will rule the roost if issues are seen in the perspective of the here and now, but cooperation, generosity and inclusiveness are strategies for long term success of communities. Can we then look at funding activities which promote cooperation- like community policing- for a more stable future ?



5 thoughts on “Game theory in Policing!

  1. Very well put Madam,I feel that while in IPS,we need to try out these new ideas,we should not force our ideas,on men below.Let them experiment with their means,and in an emergency service like police,small successes are more important than winning a long time battle.with regards,A S Rai IPS 94 batch,Punjab cadre,cell number +918872077300 email


  2. A crime fighting mandate prevents police from promoting cooperation. On the other hand a peacekeeping mandate will propel it towards conflict resolution which is another name for eliciting cooperation.


    1. Thanks for all the comments on my post.
      Shri Pandey Sir’s comment is illustrative of how even a simple change of words can reorient the focus of policing-from confrontation to cooperation. Crime fighting is important. But peace keeping is also not unimportant in the Indian context. I believe that cooperative projects in peace keeping will work like a good support for crime fighting in the long term.

      The Norway prison story is very interesting, especially in the level of tolerance and patience, that it shows, of that society towards their belief in the ability of criminals to reintegrate into society, if they are so helped. Most interesting to me, was the importance Norway attaches to the length and appropriateness of training of prison officials for their role. Their focus is on reforming the criminal.

      Many societies, incl ours, do not have the patience, resources and the will of Norway to prioritise on revamping the current dehumanising prison environment. This lack of will also may not seem too out of place on the backdrop of a significant number of other citizens who are non-criminal and law abiding, living in conditions below human dignity. However, by not focusing the use of prisons to reduce criminality and to work on inmates to help them integrate better into society, and instead by further dehumanising the criminal, we are using the prison, very inefficiently, as a resource in the criminal justice system. I think Vasundhara’s comment points towards that general result.


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