Race, Ethnicity, and Policing: New and Essential Readings

By Stephen K. Rice; Michael D. White Roberts | Go to book overview

4

Legitimacy and Cooperation
Why Do People Help the Police Fight Crime in
Their Communities?

Tom R. Tyler and Jeffrey Fagan


1. Introduction

To be effective in lowering crime and creating secure communities, the police must be able to elicit cooperation from community residents. Security cannot be produced by either the police or community residents acting alone—it requires cooperation. Such cooperation potentially involves, on the part of the public, both obeying the law1 and working with the police or others in the community to help combat crime in the community.2

How can cooperation be motivated, and, conversely, what factors defeat cooperation and for whom? To answer these questions, we contrast two models of cooperation. The first is a social control or instrumental model, which argues that people are motivated by self-interest.3 The second is a legitimacy or social norms model, which hypothesizes that people's views about the institutional legitimacy of the police and the law also influence their cooperation.

The social control or instrumental perspective argues that people's actions are governed by their self-interest either in the form of sanctions or incentives.4 Consistent with rational choice assumptions about human motivation, the police can encourage cooperative behavior by giving cooperation greater personal utility for community residents, for example by demonstrating that the police are effective in fighting crime5 and/or that rule breakers are punished.6 Shared beliefs among neighborhood residents that their community works collectively to address local problems have, for example, been shown to motivate community residents to work with each other to fight crime and disorder in their communities.7 Prior studies of policing have used several approaches to assess instrumental aspects of policing, including estimates of the rate of crime, fear of crime and police effectiveness in sanctioning criminal behavior.8

Unfortunately, from the instrumental perspective, it is in some people's short-term self-interest to break, rather than to obey, the law.9 Cooperation with law enforcement

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