Students' Views of Police Legitimacy Public

Influence of Knowledge and Confidence on Attitudes

Confidence in police and perceptions of legitimacy have been found to be significant predictors of one’s willingness to cooperate with law enforcement. Recent incidents of questionable officer-civilian use-of-force encounters have created elevated tensions between some members of the general public and members of the law enforcement community. Criminologists have noted that news media focus on such encounters has led to diminished trust in law enforcement, reduced confidence in policing, and weakened perceptions of police legitimacy. While research on police legitimacy has been a hot topic in the criminological literature in recent years, one area that has yet to be explored in this sphere is the relationship between knowledge of policing (e.g., functions, duties, procedures, and rights) and perceptions of police legitimacy. This research is intended to help fill this gap in the literature by examining students’ knowledge of police procedures and police functioning and investigating whether this knowledge is associated with confidence in police and perceptions of legitimacy. Regarding legitimacy, the only dimension of knowledge that was related to police legitimacy was students’ knowledge of police rights during interactions with citizens (p <.05). This finding suggests that as a students’ knowledge of police rights (e.g., when and for what officers are permitted to stop and search individuals) increases, so too does the student’s perception of police legitimacy. Interestingly, news exposure and fear of victimization were unrelated to attitudes. Moreover, race was the only variable that was significantly related to both perceptions of police legitimacy (p<.01) and confidence in police (p<.001). Findings indicate that compared to non-white students, white students expressed more confidence in police and viewed them as being more legitimate. Implications are noted within.

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