Encounters between the police and the public: seize the day or practice avoidance?

Date11 June 2018
Publication Date11 June 2018
AuthorAllegra Clare Schermuly
SubjectHealth & social care,Criminology & forensic psychology
Encounters between the police and the
public: seize the day or practice avoidance?
Allegra Clare Schermuly
Purpose The purpose of this paper is to investigate the effect of encounters on police legitimacy and levels
of trust in the police in the Monash Local Government Area in the state of Victoria, Australia. Monash was
chosen as it had experienced declining results in the official National Survey of Community Satisfaction with
Policing in relation to police legitimacy and trust.
Design/methodology/approach A qualitative case study comprising 18 interviews and six focus groups
with community representatives from Monash is employed in the paper.
Findings When procedural justice approaches are applied during encounters between the police and the
public, encounters contribute to securing legitimacy for the police. Contact between the police and the public
in everyday situations also enhances trust in the police, depending on the way the police conduct themselves
during such interactions.
Research limitations/implications Findings from a qualitative case study are not able to be widely
generalised but the conclusions are still useful for informing insights into processes impacting police
legitimacy and trust.
Practical implications Contributes to informing evidence-based police practice around the way police
conduct themselves during community interactions; informs policy decisions around allocation of funding for
law enforcement with more officers required to carry out community policing; emphasises the importance of
prioritising partnerships with communities; demonstrates that positive police/community relations have wider
social cohesion implications in a contemporary era of counter-terrorism priorities.
Originality/value The majority of research in this field to date has been quantitative. A qualitative approach
provides fresh insights into the mechanisms of police legitimacy, especially the role of encounters and
procedural justice.
Keywords Trust, Relationships, Procedural justice, Legitimacy, Community policing, Contact, Encounters
Paper type Research paper
Community perceptions of police legitimacy are closely aligned to community likelihood to
comply and cooperate with the police (Tyler, 1990, 2004). Policing is thought to be easier, not to
mention cheaper, if they attain the support of the community and satisfaction is maintained. This
is particularly relevant in relation to intelligence and information gathering, for example, in
counter-terrorism strategies (Cherney and Murphy, 2013; Gardner, 2017). In addition,
interpretations of police behaviour may not be consistent across populations within diverse
contemporary societies. It is, therefore, imperative that the police are judged by most of the
public to be fair and honest enabling them to maintain credibility and maximise levels of
satisfaction. Police legitimacy also increases trust and enables police to perform their role in
partnership with the community, with associated implications for police resources as stated, and
even social cohesion. Measuring public satisfaction with the police is, therefore, a key indicator.
To date, most research in this area on the part of the police, by governments and
scholars has consisted of large-scale, predominantly quantitative surveys. In contrast,
this research employed an in-depth, qualitative approach to examining perceptions of the police
(and the factors that influenced them) in the Monash Local Government Area (LGA) in the state of
Victoria, Australia. The detail that this qualitative study reveals, enriches police legitimacy
Received 9 December 2017
Revised 9 March 2018
Accepted 9 March 2018
The author was supported by an
Australian Government Research
Training Scholarship (RTP)
throughout the PhD research
from which the above findings
are drawn.
Dr Allegra Clare Schermuly is
based at the School of Social
Sciences, Monash University,
Melbourne, Australia.
VOL. 4 NO. 2 2018, pp.148-160, © Emerald Publishing Limited, ISSN 2056-3841 DOI 10.1108/JCRPP-12-2017-0039

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