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Identity, legitimacy and ‘making sense’ of police use of force

Bradford, Ben ORCID: 0000-0001-5480-5638, Milani, J. and Jackson, Jonathan ORCID: 0000-0003-2426-2219 (2017) Identity, legitimacy and ‘making sense’ of police use of force. Policing: An International Journal of Police Strategies and Management, 40 (3). pp. 614-627. ISSN 1363-951X

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Identification Number: 10.1108/PIJPSM-06-2016-0085


Abstract Purpose: This paper examines the extent to which police legitimacy and social identity explain variation in public acceptance of police use of force. Design/methodology/approach: The study draws upon cross-sectional data from a 2015 survey of a representative sample of adults in England & Wales. Structural equation modeling is used to model conditional correlations between latent constructs. Findings: There are two main results. First, identifying more strongly with a social group that the police plausibly represent to people was consistently associated with greater acceptance of police use of force, whether or not that force seemed to be justified. Second, beliefs about the legitimacy of the police were associated with acceptance, but primarily in relation only to the use of force in situations where it appeared prima facie justifiable. Research limitations/implications: The data afford descriptive analyses of conditional correlations between constructs; they do not allow us to infer any cause-and-effect relationship. Social implications (if applicable): Results suggest one possible set of reasons why police retain public support in the face of scandals concerning excessive use of force. Originality/value: This is one of only a very few investigations into (a) the association between legitimacy and public acceptance of apparently illegal or unethical police action and (b) the extent to which identification with a particular social group predicts judgments of police behavior. It is also one of the few papers that has explored the possibility of perverse outcomes arising from procedurally just policing.

Item Type: Article
Official URL:
Additional Information: © 2017 Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Divisions: Methodology
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HV Social pathology. Social and public welfare. Criminology
J Political Science > JS Local government Municipal government
K Law > KD England and Wales
Date Deposited: 11 Oct 2016 10:10
Last Modified: 29 May 2024 06:09

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