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Shaping Citizen Perceptions of Police Legitimacy: A Randomized Field Trial of Procedural Justice

November 2012

Lorraine Mazerolle, Emma Antrobus, Sarah Bennett, Tom R. Tyler


This randomized trial assesses the impact “procedurally just” traffic stops have on perceptions of the police. This study uses data from the Queensland Community trial, which randomly assigned drivers at a drinking-and-driving checkpoint into two groups. The control group received the standard interaction with the police officer, consisting of instructions on how to blow into the breathalyzer, generally only included necessary dialogue, and lasted an average of 20 seconds. Meanwhile, the treatment group’s interactions included police officers explaining the number of deaths associated with traffic accidents, and describing the motive of the police force to reduce this number. Drivers were also asked their opinions on police priorities and policies. Results show that the treatment group had significantly higher views of police legitimacy, fairness, dignity, and respect.

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Policy Implications

Simple improvements to police-citizen interactions–even at short traffic stops–may dramatically increase popular opinion and respect of the police force.

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