Legitimacy in policing denotes the extent to which the people (public members) perceive the police as legitimate, and this is measured in terms of the public’s readiness to cooperate with and obey the officers. This is linked to the level of cooperation with and support for the police effort to deal with crime. When the legitimacy of the police is in doubt, their ability and authority to work effectively are compromised. Individuals who experience more procedural justice in the hands of an officer view him or her as more legitimate (Bradford, 2014, pp.22-43). This awakes the issues of ethical policing, which is a system of moral that are largely accepted as professional values. Ethics include various values such as courage, allegiance, loyalty, and honesty in policing and thus entail engaging in the appropriate behavior. This article will, therefore, examine the idea that legitimate policing is the same as ethical policing.
Ethics and Legitimacy
The issue of ethical policing and legitimate policing understandably and undeniably places a great amount of anticipation upon an officer, causing the ethical ideals of officers to be the determinant of their legitimacy (Miller & Blackler, 2017). Members of the public are very vigilant on the moves that law enforcement engage in while on duty or off duty. As a fact, police are scrutinized more by society than any other profession, mostly because most regard them as distrustful and attempt to find them while making mistakes or become they are optimistic about law enforcement and regarded them officers as ideal leader. In both cases, it is up to the officers to ensure that they are above reproach while in their private life or on at work.
Ethics are based on the value system, which the society holds dear. Every profession demands a certain level of ethical standard and law enforcement is not exemptional. Policing is a profession that necessitates extreme devotion in behaving in the right way. Ethical or moral principles are grounded mainly on the idea that right is always right and the vice versa is true. Therefore, when officers fail to do what is expected from them by the society, and especially when they do what is blatantly and wrong, their ethics are questioned, they lose public trust and degrade their ability to work within a given community (Braswell, McCarthy, & McCarthy, 2017). Adhering to utmost ethical standards is essential in achieving their legitimacy and the overall goals of modern policing.
Currently, there has been recurring news reports of officers who were caught doing bad things. Abuse of power, theft, misuse of public office, use of excessive force and simple staffs such as speeding while driving are all instances of unethical conduct on the part of those who that have been entrusted to protect and serve the public. Though the vast majority of officers are dedicated, outstanding and hard-working, and focus on serving the public and being on their best behavior at every turn, their work never receives the praise that it deserves due to these misconducts (Kerstetter and Rasinski, 1994, pp.107-127). One disgraceful act done by an officer impacts the whole profession of law enforcement since all police officers act and look alike in the eyes of the civilian. Thus, a police officer has always to remember that how he behaves while on uniform impacts not only himself as a person but also the whole department and perhaps the law profession. This, in turn, affects their legitimacy.
Legitimacy has been said to inspire and even allows certain types of behavior while discoursing others. Studies have shown that perceived police legitimacy results in support in the form of long-term compliance with the law and active cooperation on the side of the civilians. This remains valid not only to the general population but also to the criminal offenders (Higginson and Mazerolle, 2014, pp.429-457). Therefore, legitimacy helps multiply the effectiveness of the police and empowers the relationship between the police and the community they serve. When people regard the police department as legitimate, they can identify with them more, and this encourages them to participate and assist the police in their tasks. Moreover, people who perceive the police as more legitimate (and as the monopolized institute for the legal use of force) are less tolerant to using other private means to resolve disputes, for self-protection or as part of a protest in aim for social change. This result in extreme reliance on the police force.
The reaction to a perceived lack of legitimacy of an agency, on the other hand, may exist or voice strategies on the side of the society. These reactions can similarly be symbolic, and one does not need to physically move out from the community to express their discontent with the existing police force. This can be expressed through other forms such as “denial” in the form of ignoring police officers or the expression of a passivity attitude toward the law enforcement, which is naturally less risky when compared to full ignorance (Saunders, Ober, Barnes-Proby, and Brunson, 2016, pp.672). Overall, it can be said that the more legitimate a police department is, the more active it can expect cooperation on the side of the public. This is essential given that the reliance of the police success on the active participation of the civilians. Legitimate police can oblige the public to comply with them, defer their decision and cooperate with them. Thus, legitimacy is as crucial as ethical standards to the police department, and both go hand in hand.
The role of the police as perceived by the people and ascribed by the state is directly linked to the police empirical legitimacy, be it in maintaining order, detecting crimes or social welfare. In most cases, this legitimacy is acquired through a rational connection between the purpose of an agency and the objective to be achieved (Cooper, 2014, p. 2). Therefore, every police officer ought to also bid be a law-abiding citizen as well and serve the society with none bargained desire and commitment. Members of the police need to similarly adhere to the code of ethics or morality if they plan to win and remain legitimacy from the members of the society they serve. It is by acting up can they compromise their values and fall low in public esteem. Misusing their authority, being biased, or using these positions for the personal interest defeat the purpose for which they were established and as a result, their relevance becomes diminished in the society.
Procedural justice entails the practice of ensuring that the results of civilian interactions with the law officers are viewed as fair and as offering the public with the chance to be heard, irrespective of the outcome. Scholars have shown that people are far more willing to accept the consequence of an encounter with the justice system when the results are viewed as fair, regardless of whether or not these results are favorable to them. Mazerolle et al. (2013) note that there are four “core ingredients” to procedural justice and include true motives, citizen participation, dignity and respect and perceived neutrality of the authority. Interventions mostly entail training the officers to learn the techniques, principles, and practices of procedural justice. Every officer is educated on how their perception by the public affects the amount of respect that civilians show to them and the degree to which the civilians comply with directives issued by the officers.
In summary, both ethics and legitimacy go hand in hand in law enforcement. Ethics requires the police officers to behave in a manner that is acceptable and that promote the role that they have been set to achieve. This means that though police officers, and the law enforcement at large, have been given the authority to control and fight crimes in society, they are not above those laws. As a result, the public is always monitoring their behavior mostly because they view them as leaders or in attempts to point figures. When ethical standards are upheld, the issue of legitimacy arise. People are willing to comply and assist law enforcement only when they have faith in them. As a result, the question of legality stems from the perception of the values being inspired by the police. On the other hand, the civilian may become passive toward law enforcement when they do not have faith in it. Therefore, it can be argued that both ethical policing and legitimate policing are the same.
Bradford, B., 2014. Policing and social identity: Procedural justice, inclusion and cooperation between police and public. Policing and society, 24(1), pp.22-43.
Braswell, M. C., McCarthy, B. R., & McCarthy, B. J. (2017). Justice, crime, and ethics. Taylor & Francis.
Cooper, J.A., 2014. In search of police legitimacy: Territoriality, isomorphism, and changes in policing practices. LFB Scholarly Publishing LLC.
Higginson, A. and Mazerolle, L., 2014. Legitimacy policing of places: The impact on crime and disorder. Journal of experimental criminology, 10(4), pp.429-457.
Kerstetter, W.A. and Rasinski, K.A., 1994. Opening a window into police internal affairs: Impact of procedural justice reform on third-party attitudes. Social Justice Research, 7(2), pp.107-127.
Mazerolle, L., Bennett, S., Davis, J., Sargeant, E. and Manning, M., 2013. Procedural justice and police legitimacy: A systematic review of the research evidence. Journal of experimental criminology, 9(3), pp.245-274.
Miller, S., & Blackler, J. (2017). Ethical issues in policing. Routledge.
Saunders, J., Ober, A., Barnes-Proby, D. and Brunson, R.K., 2016. Police legitimacy and disrupting overt drug markets. Policing: An International Journal of Police Strategies & Management, 39(4), pp.667-679.