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Map: The most heavily policed countries in the world

Zack Beauchamp is a senior correspondent at Vox, where he covers ideology and challenges to democracy, both at home and abroad. Before coming to Vox in 2014, he edited TP Ideas, a section of Think Progress devoted to the ideas shaping our political world.

This is just a fascinating map of the number of police officers, per 100,000 people, in every country around the world:

police per capita global

(Ramiro Gómez)

As you can probably tell, the redder a country is, the more police officers there are per capita. Lighter orange and tan countries have fewer officers; grey countries have insufficient data available.

The map's creator, Ramiro Gómez, used data from Wikipedia's list of police officers per country to build the map. The Wiki citations generally redirect to quality sources, such as INTERPOL, the UN, or official government surveys. However, each of these counts may differ somewhat in methodology, so the total numbers may not be precise. Grain of salt.

That caveat aside, there are at least two interesting things on the map. First, China has a really low percentage of police officers per capita. The map is based on a 2007 count from Xinhua, China's state news agency, which said there were 1.6 million police officers in China. Given China's 2007 population, that's about 121 officers per 100,000 people. As the map shows, that's very low by global standards.

That speaks to China's enormous population, of course — India also has relatively few officers. But it's interesting that the Chinese state is as effective at repression as it is with so few police officers police officers per capita.

Russian police officer

A Russian police officer. (Anton Fomkin)

Another notable outlier is Russia, which seems to have a lot of police per capita — 546, a little under five times China's figure. That's astonishingly high.

But that figure may also be misleading. Mark Galeotti, an NYU expert on Russia, lists a few problems with the comparison. Among others, he notes that Russia often assigns uniformed officers to jobs that, in Western countries, would be handled by civilians. These officers might not have police training, but nonetheless count as police — which means we're in some ways comparing apples to oranges.

Galeotti informally recalculated some of the numbers for Moscow alone. Moscow, according to his count, had 426 officers per 100,000 people. That's still very high, but a considerably lower per capita policing rate than what these official numbers suggest. And it's just for the capital city, which is likely to have a pretty significant police contingent.

Instead, Galeotti suggests, Russia's has actually had a problem with too few civilian police. "Russia's irony," according to Galeotti, is that "it has often been under-policed, not least as the more numerous and powerful political police — which meant the Okhrana and Gendarmerie of tsarism as much as the Cheka, NKVD and KGB of Soviet times — would often annex police resources to their own ends."

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