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

The Relationship between Fairness and Police-Citizen Hostility

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

The Relationship between Fairness and Police-Citizen Hostility

Article excerpt

The procedural justice literature has demonstrated that police fairness leads to many desirable outcomes, including citizen cooperation with the police. Police fairness also should decrease citizen resistance-behaviors, including confrontational behavior during contacts with the police. Using the 2008 Police-Public Contact Survey (PPCS), several questions asking respondents whether they believe the police acted fairly during the contact they had with the police are compared with whether respondents reported using a variety of resistance-behaviors during this contact. Findings suggest that perceptions of police fairness are connected to whether citizens defy the police and policy implications are discussed.

The ability of the police to maintain formal social control over situations is largely dependent on citizens' perceptions of their legitimacy. Whether the public perceives the police to have the legitimate authority to act on behalf of the government is a crucial factor in obtaining their compliance. Gaining and maintaining cooperation is particularly important during police-public contacts to ensure officer and public safety.

Fortunately for the police and public, violence against the police and other citizen resistance-behaviors are relatively rare. Recent estimates show that very few (about 17%) citizens have direct or frequent contact with the police (Eith & Duróse, 2011), and most of these interactions are without incident. In fact, according to Mastrofski, Snipes, and Supina (1996), 78% of citizens having face-to-face encounters with the police are compliant with police directives. The 22% who are noncompliant and resist police directives, however, pose a danger to the police and, consequently, the ability of law enforcement to protect the public. Increasing police legitimacy - or fairness - may be one way to reduce such threats to safety. In this article, two research questions are explored: (1) Do perceptions of police illegitimacy - or unfairness - influence citizen resistance against the police; and (2) Are citizens more likely to use resistance-behaviors during specific types of police-public contacts?

These questions are important for several reasons. Foremost, it will inform policy, as results may persuade police departments to incorporate training on police fairness - especially encouraging individual officers that following the tenets of legitimacy is personally beneficial by increasing their safety. Second, studying this topic is important because if the police are incapacitated in large numbers through citizen resistance, there is no "Plan B" - aside from sending reinforcement officers whose directives also may be ignored by resisting citizens. Reducing such behavior is important for law enforcement officer and public protection.

This article begins by reviewing the literature on citizen behavior during police-public contacts and framing the research questions in legitimacy theory, which is typically discussed in the criminal justice literature through procedural justice and distributive justice. Next, the Police-Public Contact Survey (PPCS) is described in detail; the PPCS is the Bureau of Justice Statistics data used to explore the research questions that perceived police illegitimacy is linked to citizen resistance-behaviors. Finally, results are discussed, limitations of the PPCS for testing this relationship are addressed, suggestions for future research are presented and policy implications are discussed.

Citizen Behavior during Police-Public Contacts

A great deal of research on police-public encounters focuses on police behavior toward citizens (e.g., Engel, Tillyer, Klahm, & Frank, 2012; Mastrofski, Reisig, & McCluskey, 2002). However, citizen behavior can generate reciprocal reactions from police, and studies of citizen behavior can be important for police policy - especially studies indicating what helps police remain safe and keep the peace by encouraging citizens to comply. …

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