Download this Paper Open PDF in Browser

Reciprocity, Collective Action, and Community Policing

36 Pages Posted: 23 Jan 2002  

Dan M. Kahan

Yale University - Law School


This article uses the reciprocity theory of collective action to evaluate different strategies for policing street crime. The reciprocity theory holds that individuals in collective action settings behave not like rational wealth maximizers but like moral reciprocators: if they perceive that most other individuals are contributing to a collective good, then most individuals prefer to do likewise; if not, then not. The effectiveness of a street-policing strategy, the article argues, depends on how well it responds to three interlocking collective action problems: that between citizens generally, relating to the good of respect for one another's persons and property; that between neighbors, relating to the good of community self-policing; and that between community residents and police, relating to the good of mutual respect. Policing strategies based on the conventional theory of deterrence tend to fail because they inhibit reciprocal cooperation in all three of these collective action settings. The strategies associated with the "New Community Policing", in contrast, foster reciprocal cooperation across one or more of these collective action settings. Nevertheless, most of these strategies - including order-maintenance policing and church-police collaborations - have at least the potential to disrupt reciprocal cooperation within one or more of them as well, constraining their effectiveness. The only technique that is likely to promote reciprocal cooperation uniformly across all the relevant collective action domains, the article concludes, is selective privatization, a highly decentralized and participatory strategy that integrates private citizens into many law enforcement functions.

Suggested Citation

Kahan, Dan M., Reciprocity, Collective Action, and Community Policing. California Law Review, Forthcoming. Available at SSRN: or

Dan M. Kahan (Contact Author)

Yale University - Law School ( email )

P.O. Box 208215
New Haven, CT 06520-8215
United States


Paper statistics

Abstract Views