Policing practices focused on respectful treatment and transparent decision making can be more effective than traditional punishment-based strategies in building public trust and encouraging cooperation with police, a new study finds.
Public trust and confidence in the police are not high across the world and in the US the problem has become especially salient in the wake of recent police shootings of unarmed black men.
The authors focus their report on the concept of police legitimacy, which is shaped by the perception that police treat people with respect and fairness.
They argue that many widely used policing practices, which are often seen as unfair, have compromised people’s view of the police as a legitimate legal authority, particularly following the deaths of minority men at the hands of police officers.
“In the wake of such deaths, the public has been increasingly unwilling to accept police accounts of such events, to believe that the police will investigate them in good faith, and to wait until such investigations are completed to react individually or collectively,” said one of the study authors, Tom Tyler from Yale Law School.
Examining analyses of data from the US and Europe, the researchers found that when people view the police as a legitimate and appropriate legal authority, they are more likely to defer to the police in personal encounters and to cooperate with the police when asked to.
Furthermore, people who view the police as legitimate are more likely to comply with the law in their everyday lives, and they are more apt to help co-police their communities, report crime, identify criminals, and act as witnesses and jurors.
“Trust is not simply a by-product of providing high quality service delivery or lowering the crime rate. Research shows that the subjective experience of being policed matters,” Tyler said.
The study appeared in Psychological Science in the Public Interest, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.