Police Legitimacy and Public Perception




Densmore, John

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Law Enforcement Management Institute of Texas (LEMIT)


Today, as in past decades, law enforcement agencies across the nation have faced a common problem, legitimacy and public perception. This is relevant because the perception the public holds of a police department’s legitimacy is the reality that the department must work under. In most cases, this perception has been built over generations of both positive and negative events involving law enforcement. Police departments should invest in building a strong relationship with the citizens they serve. Due to generations of perceptions, this is an endeavor that cannot be accomplished overnight or without involving a great level of commitment from the agencies and employees alike. The outcome will be determined by the formal and informal contacts that are made by employees with citizens on a daily basis. These contacts should always leave the public with perceptions of trust, trust that they are being treated fairly, without bias, and with their best interests in mind. Building trust is no small task and will only be successful if agencies stop relying solely on programs to build these relationships. These programs are important, but more important is the belief that programs do not build relationships, people build relationships. When law enforcement agencies and employees believe this at their core and truly desire to commit to building positive perceptions and earning the public’s trust, they will then truly earn the legitimacy they desire.



Police-Public opinion, Police - community relations