Police legitimacy: perspectives of migrants and non-migrants in Australia

Date28 February 2019
Published date28 February 2019
AuthorAllegra Clare Schermuly,Helen Forbes-Mewett
Subject MatterHealth & social care,Criminology & forensic psychology
Police legitimacy: perspectives of migrants
and non-migrants in Australia
Allegra Clare Schermuly and Helen Forbes-Mewett
Purpose This paper is drawn from a larger study investigating community perceptions of police legitimacy
in the Monash Local Government Area (LGA), in the Australian state of Victoria. Monash had seen declining
results in the official government survey in the indicators that assessed police legitimacy over the preceding
decade. The purpose of this paper is to explore the perceptions of both migrant and non-migrant participants
to understand the role of migrant status in influencing assessments of police legitimacy in Monash LGA.
Design/methodology/approach Through six focus groups, 18 interviews and one e-mail response with
31 individuals, perceptions of Victoria Police among the communities of Monash were collated and analysed.
Findings One of the key findings of the study was that ethnic diversity and/or migrant status of community
members were a key factor raised in response to questions about communityperceptions of the legitimacy of
Victoria Police in Monash LGA. Demographic change had been significant in Monash LGA over the preceding
decade, including increasing ethnic diversity in the population and a shift in migration patterns from
predominantly European to migrants from East and South Asia. In this paper, the authors suggest that the
migrant status of Monash residents was a key factor that both migrant and non-migrant participants thought
influenced perceptions of the police. Accordingly, because migrants make up a significant cohort of
Australias population, we afford due attention to this previously overlooked topic.
Practical implications The practical implications of this paper are as follows: existing Victoria Police
partnerships in the Monash communityshould be continued and expanded where possible; Victoria Police should
also prioritise partnerships with large, new migrant communities, for example, Monashs Chinese communities;
orientation for new migrants to Victoria around the criminal justice system, including Victoria Police, would help
new migrants be more aware of their rights and what to expect of law enforcement in their new host country;
police should continue to increase representation of ethnic diversity in the forcev ia recruitmentof greater numbers
of ethnically diverse police members.
Originality/value Although there have been previ ous Australian studies on migrant status as a fac tor in
perceptions of criminal j ustice (see Murphy and Che rney, 2011, 2012; Hong Chui an d Kwok-Yin Cheng,
2014), the paper identif ies a distinct narrative around migrants views of Victoria Police which the authors
believe warrant furthe r investigation using an example from a lo cal context. Furthermore, most resear ch in
this field has been quanti tative. The current stu dy provides additiona l new insights through an i n-depth
qualitative approach.
Keywords Ethnicity, Community engagement, Procedural justice, Police legitimacy, Diversity, Migrants
Paper type Research paper
Perception that police are legitimate increases community satisfaction and fosters greater compliance
and cooperation between the police and communities (Tyler and Fagan, 2008). The demographic
characteristics such as ethnicity of communities have been demonstrated to have a key impact on
community perceptions of the police and, hence, influence opinions around legitimacy (Hinds and
Murphy, 2007; Murphy and Cherney, 2011; Sargeant et al., 2013).
This paper presents a significant finding from a larger study which investigated community
perceptions of the local police in one Local Government Area (LGA) of Melbourne in the state of
Victoria, Australia. The aim of the larger PhD study was to further explore recent results from the
polices own quantitative satisfaction survey, the National Survey of Community Satisfaction with
Received 31 August 2018
Revised 28 November 2018
6 January 2019
Accepted 29 January 2019
This research was funded by an
Australian Government Research
Training Scholarship (RTP).
Allegra Clare Schermuly and
Helen Forbes-Mewett are both
based at the School of Social
Sciences, Monash University,
Melbourne, Australia.
VOL. 5 NO. 1 2019, pp.50-63, © Emerald Publishing Limited, ISSN 2056-3841 DOI 10.1108/JCRPP-08-2018-0025

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