Truly Free Consent? Clarifying the Nature of Police Legitimacy Using Causal Mediation Analysis
35 Pages Posted: 20 Jun 2015 Last revised: 5 Mar 2020
Date Written: March 4, 2020
Objectives: To test whether normative and non-normative forms of obligation to obey the police are empirically distinct and to assess whether they exhibit different dynamics in terms of the downstream effects of police-citizen contact. To draw an empirically informed conclusion as to whether police legitimacy can be partly defined as a normatively grounded form of obligation to obey the police.
Methods: The Scottish Community Engagement Trial of procedurally just policing had a putative but unexpectedly negative causal effect. To help extract value from the study we use a natural effect model for causally ordered mediators to assess causal pathways that include—but also extend beyond—the experimental treatment to procedural justice.
Results: Confirmatory factor analysis indicates that normative and non-normative forms of obligation are empirically distinct. Causal mediation analysis suggests that normative obligation to obey the police is sensitive to subjectively experienced procedurally just or unjust police behaviour and influences cooperation with the police and traffic law compliance in a way that is consistent with procedural justice theory (PJT). Non-normative obligation to obey the police is ‘sticky’ and unresponsive: it does not transmit the impact of the contact on either cooperation or compliance with traffic laws, and it is weakly and negatively correlated with normative obligation to obey the police (despite having moderately strong negative correlations with procedural justice and personal sense of power).
Conclusions: Scholars have argued that criminologists have conflated normative and non-normative forms of felt obligation to obey police commands and that obligation should consequently be treated as an outcome of legitimacy rather than a constituent part of legitimacy. Findings indicate that legitimacy can reasonably be defined partly as normative obligation in the Scottish road-user context, so long as it is measured properly. More research into the dynamics of non-normative obligation to obey the police is needed.
Keywords: causal mediation analysis, cooperation, measurement, obligation to obey the police, police legitimacy, procedural justice, sense of power
JEL Classification: K40, K41
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation