Academic journal article International Journal of Criminal Justice Sciences

Attitudes towards Police in Canada: A Study of Perceptions of University Students in a Western Canadian City

Academic journal article International Journal of Criminal Justice Sciences

Attitudes towards Police in Canada: A Study of Perceptions of University Students in a Western Canadian City

Article excerpt


Criminal justice institutions and the policies that guide them can be strongly influenced by public attitudes (Halsey & White, 2008; Roberts & Hastings, 2007). Due primarily to the reactive nature of police work, the police as a public institution rely more heavily on the support and co-operation of the public to achieve success in the performance of their duties than other criminal justice agencies. Police agencies across Canada have adopted community policing as the basis of law enforcement policy since the early 1990s. Such a policy promotes the building of collaborative relationships between the police and community residents to enhance community safety, crime prevention, and quality of life at the neighbourhood level (Chacko & Nancoo, 1993; Griffiths, Parent, & Whitelaw, 2001; Leighton, 1991; Murphy, 1993).

A vital component of the relationship between a police service and the community, as noted by Tyler (2004), is police legitimacy. This refers to the belief that the police are entitled to call upon the public to comply with the law and help combat crime and that the public have an obligation to engage in co-operative behaviour. There is ample empirical evidence showing that individuals who trust the police are more willing to provide crime-related information, to co-operate with police during an involuntary contact, to call when they require assistance, and to serve as a witness in court proceedings (Brown & Benedict 2002; Sampson, Raudenbush, & Earls, 1997; Skogan & Frydl, 2004; Sunshine & Tyler, 2003; Tyler 2004). Public confidence in critical institutions such as the police can also help promote social cohesion (Roberts & Hough, 2005). As well, studies have shown that individuals who perceive unfairness or bias in the criminal justice system are more likely to justify their engagement in unlawful activities (Sherman, 1993; Tyler 2005).

Review of the Literature

A review of the literature demonstrates that the Canadian public held relatively favourable views of the police (Brillon, Louis-Guerin, & Lamarche, 1984; Griffiths & Winfree, 1982; Hylton, Matonovich, Varro, Thakker, & Broad, 1979; Klein, Webb, & DiSanto, 1978; Koenig, 1980; Moore, 1985; O'Connor, 2008; Tufts, 2000; Yarmey & Rashid, 1983). This is not surprising as Roberts (2004) points out that the police have a mandate (i.e., protection of society) that is generally consistent with the perspective of the public. As well, another mundane explanation of the high public approval rating of the police is associated with their high visibility in the community. Specifically, police officers are usually seen by the general public performing "some useful function" such as directing traffic at the scene of an accident.

Previous research examining equality rights and racial discrimination issues has also explored minorities' attitudes toward the police (Cao, 2011; Chow, 1996; Jayewardene & Talbot, 1990; Spraggett & Chow, 1992). A few studies have investigated the relations between the police and minority communities (Chan & Hagan, 1982; Chow, 2002, 1994, 1991; Chu & Song, 2008; Wortley, 1996). These limited studies revealed the major concerns among members of minority groups, including the under-representation of visible minorities in police agencies, unfair treatment of minorities by the police, as well as injustice and racial bias in law enforcement practices.

It has been well-documented that younger people tend to evaluate the police more negatively than older groups of people (Gannon, 2005; Friedman, Lurigio, Greenleaf, & Albertson, 2004; Hurst & Frank, 2000; Murphy & Worrall, 1999; Taylor, Turner, Esbensen, & Winfree, 2001; Nofziger & Williams, 2005; Schafer, Huebner, & Bynum, 2003; Weitzer & Tuch, 2005; Zalaf & Wood, 2005). Young people's perceptions of the police have been found to be shaped by both contextual factors and individual characteristics. …

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