Meet 2020 Centennial Center Research Grant Recipient Erica De Bruin

Meet 2020 Centennial Center Research Grant Recipient Erica De Bruin

Erica De Bruin is an assistant professor of government at Hamilton College and a Non-Resident Fellow at the Modern War Institute at the United States Military Academy at West Point. She received funding from the Centennial Center Research Grants program for her project, “The Causes and Consequences of Militarized Policing.”

Policing is a central function of democratic and authoritarian states alike. In many communities, the police are the only state agents people interact with on a regular basis. In recent years, such interactions have grown more violent as police forces around the globe have become more militarized—adopting the weaponry, culture, and organizational structures of military forces. In the United States, this shift has been associated with an increase in police violence. As a result, in the wake of recent protests across the country in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, some lawmakers have begun efforts to restrict police access to military-style weaponry.

Yet the militarization of police has been a global phenomenon. De Bruin’s research project tackles two central questions: How, and why, did militarized policing spread internationally? And what are the consequences for the ability of regimes to address challenges to their rule? To answer these questions, Dr. De Bruin is building a global dataset on the use of militarized policing, 1946-2020. She has identified two periods of particularly rapid expansion in militarized policing: the first was driven in large part by foreign police assistance programs in the 1960s and 1970s; the second, was a result of efforts to combat insurgencies, drug trafficking, and terrorism after 9/11. When the U.S. National Archives at College Park reopen, Dr. De Bruin plans to conduct research at the archives of the Office of Public Safety, U.S. Agency for International Development, which trained and equipped police forces in over 50 countries between 1962 and 1974.

Dr. De Bruin hypothesizes that while militarized policing was intended to increase state capacity, it has weakened states in important ways. This is because militarized policing changes not only the relationship police have with the communities that they serve, as existing work has emphasized, but also the relationship that the police have with the regular military—and with it, the ability of regimes to survive different types of challenges to their rule. Because the provision of military-grade gear and training to police forces is associated with more violent repression, it also tends to fuel additional dissent, increasing the likelihood of mass protests and insurgency. Where rulers invest in militarized police forces at the expense of the regular military, military defection in the face of mass protests is more likely. The result is more violent, destabilizing outcomes to mass protests. This is particularly the case when militarized police forces are organized outside of military control.

This project builds on insights from Dr. De Bruin’s recent book, How to Prevent Coups d’État: Counterbalancing and Regime Survival, which was published by Cornell University Press in 2020. The book examines how rulers attempt to protect themselves from military coups. It shows that where rulers counterbalance the military with militarized police and other security forces, coup attempts against them are less likely to succeed. At the same time, however, investing in these other forces can generate resentment within the regular military that provokes the very coup attempts it was intended to prevent.

Dr. De Bruin has already published an essay from this project in Political Violence at a Glance, entitled “Trends in Militarized Policing: New Data and Puzzles,” which puts trends in police militarization in the United States in broader comparative context, as well as essay on “Political Militarization and its Political Consequences” in the Spring 2021 issue of the APSA Comparative Politics Newsletter, which documents the spread of SWAT teams and other militarized police forces, and theorizes about the ways in which militarization affects with political power of the police. Dr. De Bruin and her co-author, Zachary Karabatak, also have a forthcoming article explaining the rise of militarized policing in the MENA region in the Journal of the Middle East and Africa. She is currently preparing a second journal article that will test arguments about the effects of militarized policing in a global sample. Preliminary findings from the analysis suggest that—contrary to the hopes of rulers that adopt them—the use of more militarized forms of policing has not been associated with increased regime durability. These findings join a now growing body of research that emphasizes the costs of militarized policing for both individual leaders that employ it and the citizens under their rule.

We are now accepting applications for APSA 2021 Summer Centennial Center Research grants. Grants are available to support research on all topics in political science in amounts up to $2500, with a limited number of grants up to $10,000 available for larger projects like mini-conferences and workshops. The next deadline is June 15, 2021. Learn more and apply here!

In order to provide additional support to our members during the ongoing public health crisis, this year the Centennial Center is making research grants more flexible by expanding the categories of costs eligible for funding. Eligible costs now include: 1) Research costs associated with interviews and surveys, access to archives, and more 2) Salary support for PIs 3) Salary support for research assistants 4) Per diems regardless of location 5) Research software and hardware, including devices necessary for scholars with disabilities to conduct their research. We recognize that APSA members may have needs not included in the above list. If you have a cost that is not listed here, please contact us at