Just Authority?

Just Authority? Trust in the Police in England and Wales

Jackson, J., Bradford, B., Stanko, E. A. and Hohl, K. (2012). Just Authority? Trust in the Police in England and Wales. Oxon: Routledge.

Review| published in Criminal Law and Criminal Justice Books

Review| published in Policing: A Journal of Policy and Practice.

Review| published in Indret: Revista per a l'Anàlisi del Dret.

What does it mean to trust the police? What makes the police legitimate in the eyes of the policed? What builds trust, legitimacy and cooperation, and what undermines the bond between police and the public? These questions are central to current debates concerning the relationship between the British police and the public it serves. Yet, in the context of British policing they are seldom asked explicitly, still less examined in depth.

Drawing on psychological and sociological explanatory paradigms, Just Authority? presents a cutting-edge empirical study into public trust, police legitimacy, and people’s readiness to cooperate with officers. It represents, first, the most detailed test to date of Tom Tyler’s procedural justice model attempted outside the United States. Analysing data from some 40,000 personal interviews with Londoners conducted in 2008 and 2009, we find that when police officers behave fairly and respectfully to those they direct, the latter will regard the authority of the former as legitimate, will defer to this authority, and will feel that the power that the police wields is justified.

Second, we present an expanded theoretical definition of police. Legitimacy refers to a fundamental property of legal institutions, the right to govern, and the recognition by the governed of that right. When citizens see criminal justice institutions as legitimate, they recognise the system’s authority to determine the law, to govern through the use of coercive force, to punish those who act illegally, and to expect from members of the public cooperation and obedience. Crucially, we show that legitimacy is not just public recognition of power (people’s duty to obey), it is also public justification of power (a sense of moral alignment with the institution).

Third, we uncover the social ecology of trust, legitimacy and cooperation. Is the social and structural context important to public trust and police legitimacy? Is living in a disadvantaged and residentially unstable area a factor? Is living in a disorderly area that lacks collective social resources and ties also important? We find that neighbourhood context is more important than individual-level characteristics such as age, ethnicity and work status. We argue how the legitimacy of the police is premised in part on what it is: namely, the physical embodiment of social control activities. Informal social controls are most evident when residents hold the neighbourhood in mutual regard, when they uphold the locally accepted obligations of civility, and when they outwardly disdain the flouting of those obligations. When order is maintained and informal social controls are strong, the police seem justified in their holding of power. But when a neighbourhood does not informally police its members, the police seem unjustified in their monopoly over social force and regulation.

Fourth, London is one of the most diverse cities in the world. One might therefore expect to see large-scale variation in what Londoners want from the police. But we do not find this to be the case. People from different groups and from different communities want similar things from the police; they judge the police in largely similar ways; they want to live in orderly neighbourhoods that enjoy social cohesion and fair regulation; and their attitudes toward the police are wrapped up in the health of subtle, informal processes of social control. They want fair and respectful treatment and fair and respectful decision-making from the police, and their legitimising beliefs concerning the police involve not just obligation to obey, but also a sense of moral alignment with the police’s role as a regulatory agent. They cooperate with the police not just when they trust officers, but also when they believe that police authority is legitimate and justified.

See here| for the Routledge page, here| for the UK Amazon page and here| for the first chapter. 

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