Based on a study that involved a sample of residents of New York City, this study examined the influence of citizens’ attributions of legitimacy to the police and citizens’ willingness to cooperate with the police in the interests of social control.
Using random digit dialing procedures, a sample of 1,653 New York City residents were interviewed by telephone. In an effort to provide a slight over sampling of non-White residents, the sample was limited to approximately one-third White. The dependent variables measured through the interviews were compliance with the law and willingness to cooperate with the police in promoting and increasing public safety. The independent variables measured were attitudes toward police legitimacy (are the police a legitimate authority to be obeyed?), police efficacy (the effectiveness of the police in fighting crime in one’s neighborhood), fear of crime, neighborhood conditions, and deterrence risk. Ordinary least squares regression models were used to examine the extent to which citizen attributions of legitimacy to the police predicted compliance with the law and cooperation with the police. As expected, attribution of legitimacy to the police was found to be a significant predictor of both compliance with the law and cooperation with the police. The attribution of legitimacy to the police was based on citizen perceptions of the police as being fair and objective in the performance of their duties. The contributions of the other predictors in each of the models varied. Assessments of police performance predicted cooperation with police, but not compliance with the law. Perceptions of neighborhood disorder did not predict cooperation with the police and was a weak negative predictor of compliance with the law. Deterrence risks (perception of the likelihood that a law violation would be detected and punished) were significant predictors of both compliance with the law and cooperation with the police. 3 tables and 23 references