Beyond deterrent enforcement styles: Behavioural intuitions of Chinese environmental law enforcement agents in a context of challenging inspections

Date01 September 2018
AuthorBenjamin Van Rooij,Ning Liu,Carlos Wing‐Hung Lo
Published date01 September 2018
Beyond deterrent enforcement styles: Behavioural
intuitions of Chinese environmental law
enforcement agents in a context of challenging
Ning Liu
| Benjamin Van Rooij
| Carlos Wing-Hung Lo
Department of Public Policy, City University
of Hong Kong, Hong Kong
School of Law, University of California,
California, USA
School of Law, University of Amsterdam,
Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Department of Government and Public
Administration, The Chinese University of
Hong Kong, Hong Kong
Ning Liu, Department of Public Policy, City
University of Hong Kong, Kowloon,
Hong Kong.
Funding information
City University of Hong Kongs Start-up Grant
for New Faculty Research, Grant/Award
Number: 7200555 (POL); The Research Grant
Council of the Hong Kong Special
Administrative Region, Grant/Award Number:
This article extends the study of regulatory enforcement on three
levels. First, it separates enforcement style elements during inspec-
tions and sanction decision-making work, creating a more realistic
measurement. Second, it focuses on how these elements function
in a context where it is hard in practice to achieve deterrence.
Third, it assesses how agents view the effectiveness of combina-
tions of style elements in such a context. To do so, it uses survey
and interview data with street-level environmental officials in
Guangzhou, China. It finds that the agents studied practise enforce-
ment that goes beyond deterrence and uses education and persua-
sion more effectively. It finds that the behavioural assumptions of
these agents are to a large extent in line with the available regula-
tory literature, although agents are very unlikely to have consulted
such studies. Therefore, the article concludes that law enforcement
agents can develop nuanced and appropriate behavioural intuitions
through their everyday work experiences.
The last three decades have seen the gradual development of enforcement style analysis. The earliest operationaliza-
tion, performed by researchers including Bardach and Kagan (1982), Reiss (1984), and Hawkins (1984), distinguished
deterrent and cooperative styles. From the late 1980s, but especially since the 1990s, the styles were conceptually
further refined. Authors such as Braithwaite et al. (1987), Kagan (1994), and Gormley (1998) began to see enforce-
ment styles on a continuum of two dimensions: formalism and coercion. Since then we have seen the refinement of
enforcement style dimensions into more distinct elements that together constitute a particular style that is made up
of more or less of each of these elements. McAllister (2010) added the degree of autonomy and the degree of capac-
ity to the original formulation. Similarly, Lo et al. (2009) added prioritization and accommodation as additional style
DOI: 10.1111/padm.12415
Public Administration. 2018;96:497512. © 2018 John Wiley & Sons Ltd 497
elements, reflecting the importance of making the most of the enforcement capacity and addressing regulatory stake-
holders' preferences.
This article makes three extensions to the existing analysis of enforcement styles. First it separates enforcement
style elements into those that relate to inspections and those that relate to sanction decision-making. Existing analy-
sis has captured the style of enforcement as a whole, whether it is at the national, agency or agent level. This fails to
recognize that in everyday regulatory law enforcement, there is a crucial distinction between inspection and sanction
activities. Law enforcement, similar to regulation in general (see Hood et al. 2001), is concerned with getting informa-
tion about the behaviour of regulated firms through inspections, and imposing sanctions as negative incentives to
stop illegal behaviour at these and similar firms. Very often, inspections and sanctions are carried out by different
parts of an enforcement agency, which have different procedures and practices. Aalders (1984) has, for instance,
shown the difference between inspection work carried out in the field by what he termed buitenmannen (outside
actors) and sanction decision-making at the office by so-called binnenmannen (inside actors).
As a second extension to the current study of enforcement styles, this article focuses on a particular context
where inspections are challenging. It does so based on the fundamental idea in economics and criminology that effec-
tive deterrence results from a combination of certainty and severity of punishment (Becker 1968). For regulatory vio-
lations such certainty originates, in particular, from the probability that enterprises get caught violating regulatory
rules. Moreover, empirical evidence in criminology shows that the certainty of punishment is more important than
the severity (Short and Toffel 2008; Levine et al. 2012), and as such deterrence only results when there is a threshold
level of certainty of violations being detected (see Chamlin 1991). However, in many regulatory jurisdictions, achiev-
ing frequent and thorough inspections is no easy feat. Many regulatory agencies are strapped for resources to make
frequent on-site inspections or audits, let alone do high-intensity forms of inspections (see Kagan 1994). This is espe-
cially problematic in emerging markets such as India, China and Mexico, which have had a rapid rise in regulatory
risks but have not been able to match this with sufficient inspection capacity (McGuinness 2000). A key question
thus is what enforcement style elements can be effective in a context where intensive inspections are a challenge.
As a third extension to the existing enforcement studies, this article will focus on how agents themselves view
which styles are effective. The existing studies try to analyse the enforcement styles and their effectiveness as objec-
tive phenomena. Yet in most datasets used, the actual measures report data on the perspectives of the enforcement
agents about the style elements adopted during enforcement work, and how they themselves perceive the effective-
ness (e.g., May and Wood 2003). In contrast, this article is not trying to measure objective effectiveness. Rather, what
it seeks to do is use enforcement style measures to find out what enforcement agents think is effective and thus ana-
lyse the enforcement assumptions that these agents have. This yields vital understanding of how these agents who
do enforcement work think about effectiveness, and what they think works or does not work in a context of chal-
lenging inspections. Theoretically, this line of analysis of perceptions about enforcement style elements and their
effectiveness provides an important insight into the behavioural assumptions that enforcement workers have. It can
help us to understand where their assumptions are or are not in line with insights about enforcement style elements
and effectiveness from regulatory studies.
To develop the above three extensions, this study carried out a survey of local-level enforcement officials in
Guangzhou, China. As the capital city of Guangdong Province, Guangzhou is the largest city in the Pearl River Delta
region in southern China. It has achieved tremendous economic growth in the past three decades and, as a result,
has suffered from serious pollution problems (Lo et al. 2016). Both archival data and our interviews indicate that the
Environmental Protection Bureau's (EPB's) regulatory resources have remained scarce over the years, making inspec-
tion work very difficult. The average number of enforcement official positions in the Guangzhou Environmental Pro-
tection Bureau (GZEPB) in 2000, 2006, and 2013 were 250, 220, and 280, respectively (interview conducted by
authors). The total number of industrial enterprises, however, has increased exponentially from 31,416 to 65,598
during this period. This fundamentally challenges the enforcement agents in their inspection work, as they have only
limited staff to inspect a large number of firms. Rampant non-compliance is alarming. The 2016 Environmental State-
ments Bulletin released by the GZEPB shows that non-compliance was detected in 2,423 out of the 3,493
498 LIU ET AL.

To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT