Faculty of law blogs / UNIVERSITY OF OXFORD

Revisiting Police Legitimacy



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2 Minutes

Post by Anneke Petzsche, MSc student in Criminology and Criminal Justice, University of Oxford. This post is the first in a series reflecting on six special seminars organised and hosted by the 2015/16 MSc in Criminology and Criminal Justice students.

As part of the Centre for Criminology’s MSc in Criminology and Criminal Justice seminar series for the 2015/16 student cohort, Dr Jonathan Jackson of the London School of Economics (LSE) came to present on 29 April 2016. In the first of six such guest seminars this term, Jackson lectured on the topic of ‘Legitimating practices: Revisiting the predicates of police legitimacy.’

True to his position as Associate Professor in Research Methodology and a member of the Mannheim Centre for Criminology at LSE, he didn’t limit the lecture to presenting the findings of his latest research, but instead divided his presentation into two parts: the methodological background of his research and his research findings.

Dr Jackson began his talk by drawing out the important distinction between reflective and formative research measurements. He emphasized that the choice of measurement was of great importance to the approach and results of a study. In a reflective approach one starts with a theoretical construct that cannot be observed, for which an indirect measure is required. It is assumed that the underlying theoretical construct (‘intelligence,’ in his example) exists prior to measurement and that variations in the underlying construct causes variations in its different indicators. Or, to put it differently, it is assumed that the reason several different indicators vary is the underlying, latent concept that therefore can be measured through these indicators.

In contrast, in a formative approach one starts with a concept, but rather than ‘discover’ it, one defines it. He named as an example the development of an index of multiple deprivation. As Dr Jackson put it, the formative approach is the ‘pragmatic measurement approach.’ He then went on to compare the two approaches and to point out the relevant differences, namely the direction of causality from construct to measure, the interchangeability of the indicators, and the covariation among the indicators.

In the second half of the seminar, Dr Jackson presented his research findings as an example of the application of a reflective approach. After briefly describing the basic principles and underlying assumptions of procedural justice theory, he pointed out that research on police legitimacy so far has been quite narrow. The main focus has been to compare the effects of effective versus fair police treatment in personal encounters. In his latest research, he broadened this perspective by incorporating the fact that policing isn’t limited to personal encounters with the public, since the police have several different functions. Consequently, Dr Jackson’s research was aimed at considering a broad array of policing components, including unobserved actions such as electronic surveillance, respecting the limits of one’s legal authority (‘bounded authority’), and the unequal or equal distribution of policing resources between different groups (‘distributive fairness’). Using data from a sample of adults in England and Wales generated by using random-digit-dialling, he found the following: ‘direct, interpersonal contact with police explains only a small amount of the variance of judgements about general forms of police conduct and organization,’ and ‘some of these judgements are also predicates of legitimacy.’ Furthermore, and most importantly, not only procedural justice, but also bounded authority, are the two key predictors of normative alignment. Interestingly, he found no effect of electronic surveillance upon judgements of police legitimacy.

Dr Jackson ended his presentation by describing how a formative approach would have influenced the research, delineating that it would have been a more pragmatic approach offering more freedom to the researcher. The seminar concluded with a lively discussion in which my fellow MSc students raised questions as to the applicability of the results to either smaller units such as neighbourhoods or bigger ones such as different countries, and the importance of media influence on police legitimacy.

Overall, this first seminar was comprised of an engaging presentation followed by an animated discussion in which Dr Jackson didn’t only offer a developed and fascinating view on the concept of police legitimacy, but also shared his enthusiasm for methodology and proved the importance of a clear and well-developed methodological approach. It proved to be a successful start to a seminar series in which the MSc students are responsible for organising and hosting the seminars, offering an interesting experience and the opportunity to develop useful academic skills.