Citizens’ trust in the police and police trust-building strategies
Main findings from a comparative, dynamic study
Trust in the police is a topic of both scientific and practical relevance. It is therefore surprising that research has so far neglected the police perspective on trust. This article reports on an international comparative attempt to address this issue by not just studying trust in the police, but also police trust-building strategies. Through the notion of a dialogue between citizens and the police, two empirical halves of the study reflected the citizen perspective on trust and the police perspective, respectively. The research was guided by three theoretical traditions: proximity policing, instrumentalism, and procedural justice. The first part of the study aimed to compare a large number of European countries in terms of trust and its determinants. Results showed that trust in the police was mostly determined by procedural justice (or rather, procedural injustice) and that crime rates were unrelated to trust. The relationship between proximity policing and trust was inconclusive. The second empirical part of the study concentrated on police trust-building strategies in England and Wales, Denmark, and the Netherlands, tracing continuities and discontinuities over the span of several decades. Police trust-building strategies are shaped and influenced by a wide variety of factors and actors, showing that public trust in the police is only one aspect of a much larger complex in which context, events and agency play essential roles. This shows that citizens’ trust in the police and police trust-building strategies are subject to fundamentally different logics, seriously complicating the dialogue between the police and the public.
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