Do the ends justify the means? Policing and Rights Tradeoffs in New York City

45 Pages Posted: 14 Feb 2018 Last revised: 6 Aug 2018

See all articles by Amanda Geller

Amanda Geller

NYU Department of Sociology

Jeffrey Fagan

Columbia Law School

Tom Tyler

Yale University - Law School

Date Written: August 5, 2018


Policing is an integral component of urban life. New models of proactive policing may prevent crime; however, the frequent intrusive police contacts involved have strained police-community relations. The burdens of proactive policing often fall on African American and Latino communities, with only small returns to crime control and high risks of non-productive interactions. Citizens are often asked to accept these invasive tactics as a necessary means to the end of improved public safety. This paper examines the willingness of New York City residents to engage in “rights tradeoffs” and sacrifice their civil liberties for public safety. Data from a telephone survey (N= 960) suggest little openness to rights tradeoffs tied to perceived neighborhood danger. However, respondents who see the police as legitimate are more likely to support such tradeoffs. Results suggest that calls for intrusive policing in order to improve neighborhood safety are unrelated to respondents’ perceptions of neighborhood safety.

Keywords: Police, Civil Liberties, Legitimacy, Survey Research

Suggested Citation

Geller, Amanda and Fagan, Jeffrey and Tyler, Tom, Do the ends justify the means? Policing and Rights Tradeoffs in New York City (August 5, 2018). Columbia Public Law Research Paper No. 14-581. Available at SSRN:

Amanda Geller (Contact Author)

NYU Department of Sociology ( email )

295 Lafayette St.
4th Floor
New York, NY 10012
United States
212-992-8762 (Phone)

Jeffrey Fagan

Columbia Law School ( email )

435 West 116th Street
New York, NY 10027
United States
212-854-2624 (Phone)
212-854-7946 (Fax)


Tom Tyler

Yale University - Law School ( email )

P.O. Box 208215
New Haven, CT 06520-8215
United States

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