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Do Police-Citizen Interactions Influence Citizen Attributions of Legitimacy?

Do Police-Citizen Interactions Influence Citizen Attributions of Legitimacy?

Theories of distributive justive, procedural justice, structuralist analyses of legal institutions, and social interactionist theories of law, all agree that perceptions of legitimacy influence the extent to which citizens participate in social control and social regulation. Although these theories of legitimacy focus on couts or other judicial forums, most citizens have infrequent users of the cours or other formal legal services. Accordingly, these theories of legitimacy overlook the important influence of citizens' contacts with legal actors including the police, other governmental and administrative agencies (e.g., publi welfare, houseing), and private regulation. In turn, these theories may fail to understand how perceptions of the law and its legitimacy are formed and maintained. REcent evidence suggests that police in particular are far more influential in shaping the views of criminal law than are the courts or other domains of the criminal legal or civil law systems. Problems such as racial discrimination, police violence, and wrongful conviction may disproportionately shape perceptions of the police that erode citizen confidence in the law, and lead to poor evaluations of the legitimacy of the criminal law. In this project, we test this theory in an analysis of survey data obtained from 1,000 citizens in New York City in 2001, four months before the September 11th attacks. We test the hypothesis that perceptions of legitimacy are influenced by the behavior of the police, that these ratings vary depending on the neighborhood and race of the citizen, and that the citizens' compliance with the law is influenced by their attributions of legitimacy. The implications of the project address the importance of democratic control of the police leverage and maintain citizens' positive evaluation of the legitimacy of the police, and to motivate their participation in social control.