Lawful Or Fair? How Cops And Laypeople Perceive Good Policing


Meares, Tyler, And Gardener (2014)


Legal authorities and the public live in two separate worlds. Prosecutors, judges, and other legal actors view police departments, their policies, and police officers’ actions as right or wrong with reference to constitutional standards, with lawfulness of the relevant policies and practices dominating the conversation. In contrast, we argue that the public is generally insensitive to the question of whether police officers act consistently with constitutional standards. Instead, the public evaluates the propriety of police actions primarily by assessing whether police officers exercise their authority with “procedural fairness."


This is a survey experiment, in which respondents completed a questionnaire and then watched and reacted to three videos of police–citizen interactions. In each video, the police exercised some level of authority over the person stopped, ranging from verbal commands to the use of physical force. In some, subjects were given explanations of what was going on, in others they received no contextual information.


1) When assessing the legality of police actions, procedural justice factors are more influential to people’s judgments than the actual legality of police behavior. 2) In other words, although the lawfulness of police conduct has some effect on the public’s desire to punish police, this effect is trivial compared to that of procedural justice. It is what police do during a stop that shapes perceived lawfulness, not the reasons on which they rely when deciding to engage a person.

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#ProceduralJustice #Legitimacy

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