Academic journal article Journal of the Institute of Justice and International Studies

Policing Young People: Can the Notion of Police Legitimacy Play a Role?

Academic journal article Journal of the Institute of Justice and International Studies

Policing Young People: Can the Notion of Police Legitimacy Play a Role?

Article excerpt

In the eyes of the public, police play an important role in combating crime and maintaining law and order. Yet, according to normative models of behavior, obedience to law is built more upon one's trust in the agents of law enforcement than fear of police and the likelihood of their detecting one's criminal activity. This article reviews recent findings relating to the theory of police legitimacy. It applies the theory to police-youth practises. It speculates upon which means of police-youth communication are likely to be most effective in fostering legitimacy, and offers strategies that may best advance it. It concludes that policy-makers ought to consider redirecting a portion of police resources away from practises, which have traditionally been regarded as 'crime fighting' and towards developing policies, that are aimed at enhancing value-based motivation in young people and developing their communication skills. It posits the view that building trust in the legal system and agents of the law from a young age can be a key to 'crime control' in both the short term (youth offending) and long-term (adult offending).

Modem policing is predominantly focused on responding to crime. Although some proactive initiatives have been implemented to form part of the current policing framework, reactive strategies (focused on improving efficiency, shortening response times and enhancing 'clear-up' rates) continue to play the primary role in police practises. The defined 'functions' of police typically focus upon responding to emergency situations and preventing crime thereby. A reactive paradigm fits principally with what is understood as an 'instrumentalist' approach to crime reduction. Gary Becker (1974, 9) was a prime figure in instrumentalism. He theorized, for example, that a person will be more likely to commit an offense if the result of the crime (such as riches, or satisfaction arising out of an assault on another person) exceeds the expected result of directing his or her time and resources towards more law-abiding activities. Becker was also of the view that the probability of being caught and convicted has a much greater impact upon this weighing up of options than does the threat or severity of punishment (Becker, 1974, 11), a view that predominates in current discourse as well (see Balko, 2013). There is a corollary in broader policymaking too. Political strategies that see value in promising the implementation of 'tough on crime' policies continue to predominate to this day. They are based essentially on instrumentalist perspectives, and their attendant reactive approaches (Sarre, 2011).

One should not forget, of course, that proactive strategies have a role in policing too. For example, the South Australia Police (SAPOL) 'core functions' include crime prevention objectives (Police Act 1998 (SA), section 5(c)), which will, presumably, involve the use of situational crime prevention tools such as 'target hardening' and 'designing out crime' (Sarre, 1997; 2003). Those training Victoria Police, too, have been instructed to ensure that proactive approaches to crime prevention are spliced into probationary training (Victorian Parliament, 2012, 126). If one looks internationally, one finds that there is no shortage of evidence that the most effective crime prevention-focused policing requires police to take a proactive approach (ICPC, 2011, 21). However, 'social' crime prevention strategies, such as providing community outreach schemes and pursuing educational and welfare objectives as a prophylactic against anti-social conduct, are not seen as predominant aims, or, indeed, may not be commonly within the bailiwick of police at all.

In other words, proactive crime prevention strategies are rarely in the forefront of the minds of police, nor are they typically, one might assume, in the minds of the public when they are asked to consider the police function. Hence these strategies do not become the focus of police performance measures. …

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