All papers should be approximately 6 pages in length, typed (preferably in Word), double-spaced, wit

  

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530548
research-article2014
CADXXX10.1177/0011128714530548Crime & DelinquencyNix et al.
Article
Trust in the Police: The
Influence of Procedural
Justice and Perceived
Collective Efficacy
Crime & Delinquency
2015, Vol. 61(4) 610­–640
© The Author(s) 2014
Reprints and permissions:
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DOI: 10.1177/0011128714530548
cad.sagepub.com
Justin Nix,1 Scott E. Wolfe,1 Jeff Rojek,1 and
Robert J. Kaminski1
Abstract
Tyler’s process-based model of policing suggests that the police can enhance
their perceived legitimacy and trustworthiness in the eyes of the public
when they exercise their authority in a procedurally fair manner. To date,
most process-based research has focused on the sources of legitimacy while
largely overlooking trust in the police. The present study extends this line
of literature by examining the sources of trust in the police. In particular,
emerging research has revealed that neighborhood context influences
attitudes toward the police but much less attention has been given to
exploring the role individuals’ perceptions of their neighborhood play in
shaping such evaluations. Therefore, the present study considers whether
individuals’ perceptions of collective efficacy serve as a social-psychological
cognitive orientation that influences levels of trust in the police. Using data
from a recently conducted mail survey of a random sample of 1,681 residents
from a metropolitan city, we find that procedural justice evaluations are a
primary source of trust in the police. At the same time, however, level of
perceived collective efficacy is positively associated with trust even after
accounting for procedural justice. The findings suggest that police procedural
fairness is vitally important to establishing trust from the public but peoples’
1University
of South Carolina, Columbia, SC, USA
Corresponding Author:
Justin Nix, Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice, University of South Carolina,
1305 Greene Street, Columbia, SC 29208, USA.
Email: nix2@mailbox.sc.edu
Nix et al.
611
cognitive orientation toward their neighborhood context partially shapes
the level of trustworthiness they afford to the police.
Keywords
policing, procedural justice, collective efficacy, trust, legitimacy
Tyler’s (1990, 2004; Tyler & Huo, 2002) theory of procedural justice—often
referred to as the process-based model of policing—suggests that the police
can enhance their perceived legitimacy and trustworthiness in the eyes of the
public by exercising authority in a procedurally fair manner. Establishing
legitimacy or trust represents a desirable alternative to using coercive force to
obtain compliance from citizens. Moreover, when citizens trust the police,
they are more likely to cooperate with them by reporting crimes as well as
informally enforcing societal norms. Empirical research offers support for
the process-based model: Individuals who believe police actions are procedurally fair are more likely to perceive them as a legitimate and trustworthy
institution (Sunshine & Tyler, 2003; Tyler & Huo, 2002). Tyler (2005; Tyler
& Huo, 2002) also suggests that procedural justice influences normative
evaluations of the police (e.g., trust and legitimacy) net of other individual or
situational factors (see also, Gau, Corsaro, Stewart, & Brunson, 2012).
The process-based model of policing has received considerable research
attention over the past decade but two important areas remain open to empirical scrutiny. First, as Bottoms and Tankebe (2012) point out, there is no universally recognized definition of legitimacy. Researchers have typically
measured legitimacy as trust in the police and perceived obligation to obey
(Sunshine & Tyler, 2003; Tyler, 1990; Tyler & Huo, 2002); however, more
recent studies suggest that these constructs are theoretically and empirically
distinct and should therefore be treated as separate concepts (Gau, 2011,
2013; Reisig, Bratton, & Gertz, 2007). Despite such findings, the majority of
research has focused on legitimacy—much less attention has been given to
the sources of trust in the police. Given the evidence that evaluations of trust
and legitimacy are separate concepts yet part of the same process-based normative evaluation, examining the antecedents of trust in law enforcement is
important on both theoretical and policy-oriented grounds. Second, and most
important for our study, evidence exists demonstrating that neighborhood
context influences individuals’ attitudes toward the police (Reisig & Parks,
2000, 2003; Sampson & Bartusch, 1998). While important, the majority of
this literature focuses on compositional effects and neglects the potentially
important role that individuals’ perceptions of neighborhood conditions have
on their evaluations of legal actors. Recently Gau and her colleagues (2012)
612
Crime & Delinquency 61(4)
presented results showing that neighborhood context does not affect evaluations of police legitimacy but individual perceptions of neighborhood cohesion influence such evaluations. Thus, preliminary evidence suggests that the
cognitive orientation individuals have toward law enforcement may be partially shaped by their perceptions of the environment in which they are situated. It is particularly important to examine such an influence on perceptions
of police trustworthiness considering the social-psychological underpinnings
of Tyler’s theory. If perceptions of neighborhood conditions are associated
with trust in the police, the question that remains is what role evaluations of
procedural justice play in the relationship. Tyler’s arguments would suggest
that individuals’ evaluations of police officer fairness should override the
effects of such extraneous variables, yet no research to date has been able to
examine this question.
The current study examines these issues using data from a recently collected mail survey of a random sample of citizens from a mid-sized metropolis in the southeastern United States (N = 1,681). Our analyses move the
current procedural justice literature forward in several ways. First, going
beyond prior process-based model research that typically examines evaluations of legitimacy, we focus our analysis on the predictors of trust in the
police. Second, we determine whether perceptions of neighborhood collective efficacy affect individuals’ levels of trust in the police after accounting
for evaluations of procedural justice. Specifically, we consider whether perceptions of procedural justice, as Tyler postulates, diminishes the effect of
other variables—including perceived collective efficacy—on trust. We conclude by discussing theoretical and policy implications as well as avenues for
future research.
The Process-Based Model of Policing
Being viewed as a legitimate and trustworthy authority is important to the
police because such normative evaluations lead to compliance, cooperation,
and empowerment from the public (Tyler, 1990). The police cannot be everywhere at once and, therefore, must rely heavily on voluntary compliance with
the law to maintain social order. In addition, cooperation from the public is
essential to the crime suppression function of the police. Citizens cooperate
with the police by reporting crimes, working together as a community to
enforce social norms, and supporting the allocation of public resources to
their local police department. Cooperation is especially important because it
increases the likelihood that citizens will comply with police decisions in the
long term (Sunshine & Tyler, 2003; Tyler & Huo, 2002). Empowerment
involves the willingness of the public to accept police discretionary
Nix et al.
613
judgments (e.g., about when to make an arrest rather than issue a citation).
The police are able to exercise discretion—especially regarding whether or
not to use physical force (Bittner, 1972)—only because the public has
empowered them to do so.
Tyler and Huo (2002) seem to suggest that the concept of trust is distinct
from legitimacy. In their influential study of trust of legal authorities, however, they go on to measure trust as one of two components of legitimacy (the
other being perceived obligation to obey). Scholars have recently questioned
the validity of this conceptualization of legitimacy and demonstrated that
trust and perceived obligation to obey do not load together onto a single factor (Gau, 2011, 2013; Reisig et al., 2007). Similarly, Tyler (2006) has noted
that the correlation between trust and obligation to obey tends to be small
(e.g., r = .26). Recently proposed conceptualizations of legitimacy have in
fact defended the exclusion of trust as a component of the concept. For example, Jackson et al. (2012) define legitimacy as a sense of moral alignment
with the police in addition to a perceived obligation to obey. The police as an
institution are empowered by the public to maintain order and enforce laws.
Legitimacy, as Jackson and his colleagues suggest, partially hinges on the
degree to which the police and the public share common beliefs about the
maintenance of this social order (see also Tankebe, 2013).
Conversely, trust in the police involves a feeling that officers will exercise
their authority with the community’s best interest in mind. Tyler and Huo
(2002) state that, “[t]rust in a person’s motives or character refers to his or her
internal, unobservable characteristics that are inferred from his or her observable actions” (p. 58). Trust is a particularly important concept with respect to
orientations toward law enforcement because citizens normally have limited
knowledge about the actions taken by police and lack expertise in judging
said actions (Tyler & Huo, 2002). The level of trust one has in the police is
based on “cues that communicate information about the intentions and character” of the police (Jackson et al., 2012, p. 4). Thus, trust evaluations serve
as a normative attitude regarding how benevolent law enforcement actions
are and can be held regardless of the amount of personal contact one has with
the police (Tyler & Huo, 2002). Paralleling arguments regarding legitimacy,
people are believed to comply and cooperate with the police because they
trust that officers will behave in predictable and acceptable ways. It is important to note that one could view the police as a legitimate authority without
necessarily trusting certain officers (Hawdon, 2008). In the end, treating trust
as a distinct concept is supported on both theoretical and empirical grounds
(Gau, 2011, 2013; Reisig et al., 2007; Tyler, 2006). Accordingly, exploring
the correlates of trust evaluations is worthy of empirical inquiry (Hawdon,
2008; Jackson et al., 2012; Sargeant, Murphy, & Cherney, 2013; Tyler, 2005).
614
Crime & Delinquency 61(4)
Procedural justice theory recognizes that individuals place value on the
fairness of the procedures used to reach an outcome—oftentimes more so
than the fairness of the actual outcome (Thibaut & Walker, 1975).
Overwhelming evidence suggests that procedural justice is the main antecedent of evaluations of police legitimacy (Gau, 2011, 2013; Gau et al., 2012;
Reisig et al., 2007; Tankebe, 2013; Tyler, 1990; Wolfe, 2011). Prior research
has focused primarily on legitimacy with less attention given to the sources
of trust. Existing theoretical arguments and empirical evidence stemming
mainly from Tyler’s work indicates that the same process-based model
applies to normative evaluations of trust in the police (Gau, 2011, 2013;
Reisig et al., 2007; Tyler, 2003; Tyler & Huo, 2002). Tyler (2005) found that
perceived police fairness exerts the strongest influence on the public’s level
of trust. This begs the question, “What do individuals regard as fair?” In part,
the answer varies depending on the particular situation. Tyler (2003) specifies two key elements of fairness: quality of decision making and quality of
interpersonal treatment. When officers remain neutral and use objective reasoning to make decisions—as opposed to personal biases—citizens are more
likely to believe their decisions are fair. Likewise, being treated with dignity
and respect will lead citizens to feel an officer is being fair. A third element
emerges pertaining specifically to resolving disputes: participation in the
decision-making process (Tyler, 2005). Citizens who are involved in a dispute value the opportunity to express their side of the story prior to any solution being reached. Officers who provide each of the involved parties with
this opportunity are more likely to be perceived as exercising their discretion
fairly. Regardless of the scenario, “authorities become more highly trusted
when they are seen to exercise their authority in fair ways” (Tyler, 2003, p.
299). In other words, officers who remain objective, respectful, and polite,
and provide citizens with an opportunity to express their views prior to making a decision are more likely to be viewed as trustworthy in the eyes of the
public. Beyond Tyler’s own tests, relatively little empirical evidence exists
pertaining to the connection between procedural justice and trust in the
police—a gap addressed by the present study.
Another antecedent of trust is distributive justice, which focuses on perceived fairness of the outcome rather than the process. According to distributive justice theories, individuals are more accepting of outcomes if they are
equal to those received by similarly situated others. As the name suggests,
individuals place importance on the equal distribution of justice across different societal groups (Sarat, 1977). For instance, Tyler and Wakslak (2004)
found that perceived racial profiling by police officers is associated with
lower levels of public support for the police. Moreover, individuals in their
study who believed the police engage in profiling expressed less willingness
Nix et al.
615
to comply with authorities. Tyler (2005) has also demonstrated that trust is
influenced by perceptions of distributive justice but procedural justice exerts
the strongest influence.
Finally, individual differences may influence levels of trust in the police.
For decades, scholars have pointed to the importance of demographic characteristics such as race, gender, and age when examining attitudes toward the
police. Numerous studies have found that minorities have less favorable
opinions of the police than Whites (Engel, 2005; Wu, Sun, & Triplett, 2009).
Likewise, research has demonstrated that minorities tend to be more distrustful of the police (Hindelang, 1974; Lasley, 1994; Tyler, 2005). Regarding
age, most studies suggest that as individuals get older, they generally express
more favorable opinions about the police (Frank, Brandl, Cullen, & Stichman,
1996; Ren, Cao, Lovrich, & Gaffney, 2005; Wu & Sun, 2009). Research
regarding the relationship between gender and attitudes toward police is less
conclusive: Some studies have found that females express more favorable
attitudes (Cao, Frank, & Cullen, 1996), while others suggest gender is insignificant (Frank et al., 1996; Lai & Zhao, 2010; Ren et al., 2005). In their
study, which focused specifically on trust in police, Wu and Sun (2009) found
that gender did not significantly influence levels of trust. Other than demographics, recent research has shown that individual differences in self-control
and emotion influence the relationship between procedural justice, legitimacy, and compliance (Murphy & Tyler, 2008; Reisig, Wolfe, & Holtfreter,
2011; Wolfe, 2011).
Despite the various sources of trust in the police, the key argument of
Tyler’s (1990) process-based theory is that procedural justice judgments are
the primary antecedent. That is, people’s trust in the police is most importantly shaped by how fair they perceive officer actions to be and to a much
lesser extent by the fairness of outcome distribution or individual differences.
An emerging body of research calls into question this proposition and suggests that individuals’ contextual environments exert important effects on
their evaluations of legal actors such as the police.
Perceived Collective Efficacy and Trust in the
Police
Sociological inquiry appreciates that neighborhood context plays an important role in shaping resident attitudes and perceptions. Ross and Jang (2000),
for instance, demonstrated that individuals situated in communities with
greater amounts of disorder reported significantly higher levels of fear and
mistrust of fellow neighborhood residents. Similarly, Ross, Mirowsky, and
Pribesh (2001) showed that people who live in communities where the threat
616
Crime & Delinquency 61(4)
of victimization is common are more likely to feel powerless in the fight
against becoming a victim. This sense of powerlessness serves to intensify
mistrust of one’s neighbors. Ecological conditions have also been shown to
influence perceptions of neighborhood disorder (Sampson & Raudenbush,
2004), safety (Austin, Furr, & Spine, 2002), and victimization risk (Pickett,
Chiricos, Golden, & Gertz, 2012). In short, negative attitudes are partly the
result of objective and subjective indicators of structural disadvantages.
Variation in neighborhood characteristics also matters with respect to attitudes toward the police (see, for example, Brunson & Gau, 2011; Decker,
1981; Weitzer, 1999; Weitzer & Tuch, 2004) and the law more generally (see,
for example, Kirk & Matsuda, 2011). In their now seminal study, Sampson
and Bartusch (1998) found that respondents from neighborhoods with greater
concentrated disadvantage tended to have higher levels of dissatisfaction
with the police and an overall cynical perception of the law and legal actors.
In their words, “there is an ecological structuring to normative orientations—
‘cognitive landscapes’ where crime and deviance are more or less expected
and institutions of criminal justice are mistrusted” (Sampson & Bartusch,
1998, p. 800). Sun, Hu, Wong, He, and Li (2013) recently used a unique
sample of Chinese respondents to show that disadvantaged context diminishes trust in neighbors, which hinders trust in the police (see also Reisig &
Parks, 2000, 2003; Wu et al., 2009).
Explanations for the relationship between context and attitudes toward the
police and the legal system are largely grounded in subcultural theory. Indeed,
in the social disorganization tradition, structural disadvantages such as poverty, racial and ethnic heterogeneity, and residential mobility produce mutual
distrust and reduced social cohesion among community residents (Anderson,
1999; Kornhauser, 1978; Sampson & Groves, 1989; Shaw & McKay, 1942).
The obstruction of common values, beliefs, and norms governing appropriate
behavior fosters the emergence of subcultural value systems whereby crime
is expected and the law is looked upon with a cynical eye. Sampson and
Bartusch (1998) suggest that those subjected to such anomic conditions
should be expected to harbor cynical views about the justice system regardless of whether they personally condemn violence or deviance. After all, the
police may be less inclined to work diligently in communities where residents rarely self-regulate social norms (Carr, Napolitano, & Keating, 2007;
Gau et al., 2012; Klinger, 1997; Sampson & Bartusch, 1998; Smith, 1986)—a
situation that may impede feelings that the police can be trusted to make good
decisions for the community.
Although largely a framework of “places,” subcultural theory does not
dismiss the important role of individual perceptions of neighborhood conditions (Fischer, 1995). Indeed, much contextually focused research relies on
Nix et al.
617
individual perceptions to create aggregate neighborhood measures (see, for
example, Sampson, Raudenbush, & Earls, 1997). In addition, research evidence compiled to date clearly shows that compositional differences, while
important, fail to fully e …
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