Identity, Legitimacy and ‘Making Sense’ of Police Violence
14 Pages Posted: 13 Jun 2016 Last revised: 3 Aug 2016
Date Written: June 10, 2016
This paper examines the extent to which police legitimacy and social identity predict public acceptance of police use of force. The study draws upon cross-sectional data from a 2015 survey of a representative sample of adults in England & Wales. Structural equation modeling is used to model conditional correlations between latent constructs. There are two main results. First, identifying more strongly with a social group that the police plausibly represent to people was consistently associated with greater acceptance of police use of force, whether or not that force seemed to be legally justified. Second, beliefs about the legitimacy of the police were associated with acceptance, but primarily in relation only to the use of force in situations where it appeared prima facie justifiable. Results suggest one possible set of reasons explaining why police retain public support in the face of scandals concerning excessive use of force. In terms of originality, this is one of only a very few investigations into (a) the association between legitimacy and public acceptance of apparently illegal or unethical police action and (b) the extent to which identification with a particular social group predicts judgments of police behavior. It is also one of the few papers that has explored the possibility of perverse outcomes arising from procedurally just policing.
Keywords: police, legitimacy, social identity, use of force
JEL Classification: K41
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation