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Legitimacy and Community Cooperation With Law Enforcement

Dr. Tom R. Tyler, New York University

Tom R. Tyler, chair of the New York University psychology department, describes research on profiling and community policing. His research found that citizens of all races show greater respect for law enforcement when they believe officers are treating them fairly. Even citizens who experienced a negative outcome getting a traffic ticket, for example showed higher levels of respect for and cooperation with law enforcement as long as they believed they were not being singled out unfairly.

Laurie Robinson: Good morning. Good morning. I'm Laurie Robinson, Acting Assistant Attorney General here at OJP. And I want to say “good morning” and “welcome” to all of you here. And a special welcome to those of you who have come from outside of OJP, from other parts of the department and some of our visitors here from outside of the Justice Department, from the outside world. Very pleased that we have here today as a guest speaker Dr. Tom Tyler from New York University's Department of Psychology. And he's here to talk with us about the very important issues relating to police community relationships and perceptions regarding those relationships. And as all of you know, these have been very much in the news of recent.

Back in 2003, I had the occasion to hear Dr. Tyler speak. He made a presentation on some of these issues that you'll hear about today. Out at George Mason University, both Chip Stewart, the former Director of NIJ who's sitting here in the front row, he and I were, at that time, on the George Mason University Administration of Justice Advisory Board, Steve Mastrosfski's board. And Tom Tyler had come to speak to that group. And I was incredibly struck by the talk; it made a very big impression on me. So much so, that when the events recently occurred in Cambridge, Massachusetts, involving the arrest that all of us read about involving Professor Gates and the subsequent national debate that arose to quite a high-pitched level, I immediately went to Kris Rose and Thom Feucht at NIJ and Phelan Wyrick on my staff and suggested that we bring Professor Tom Tyler here to speak to the Department of Justice.

Now the reason I felt so strongly about that was not to ask Tom Tyler to rehash the events that occurred in Cambridge that day, but to help us reflect in a constructive way going forward about how we might think about improving the way that police and citizens interact with one another. And our discussion today focuses on the notion of legitimacy, a key concept in Professor Tyler's research.

When we talk about social order or questions of authority, legitimacy is usually taken to mean the sense of obligation to obey or defer to an authority. But incidents like the Gates episode also underscore perceptions of fairness, of procedural fairness, of just and appropriate processes that are very crucial to effective policing. Professor Tyler's research focuses on the connections between legitimacy and citizen willingness to cooperate with the police. Obviously, the police rely on the active cooperation of citizens and community residents, so understanding this notion of legitimacy is really crucial. This also means knowing what can cause legitimacy to degrade and what can be done to increase and sustain it. Sometimes these issues have been caught up in narrower discussions of racial profiling. And while it's clear that overt racial bias on the part of the police is a very significant issue we need to address, I think that Professor Tyler's work and today's lecture actually challenge us to broaden our frame of thinking beyond the question of race to larger issues of legitimacy and trust and confidence in the police.

So we're glad to have the opportunity to hear from Professor Tyler today. I know it's very hard at the end of August in an academic's life to break away, Tom, so we really appreciate your coming here and to help stimulate a thoughtful discussion on these very complex issues. So please join me in welcoming Dr. Tom Tyler.


Tom Tyler: Well, I think it's the hope of every criminal justice researcher that they will have something useful to say when a moment like the Gates incident comes up. And I'd like to say that, for my part, having something useful to say about these issues is dependent upon the fact that over many years I've received support from NIJ to do the research that I'm going to talk about. So, in a sense, I'm just coming here to tell you what you paid for.


And I hope you think it was worth it.

The Gates incident, which is what I'll refer to the events in Cambridge as during this talk, was clearly something that resonated all over America with lots of different groups of people in terms of the energy that was created around discussions about this event, efforts to think about what the message was that came out of this event.

There are a lot of different ways you can think about the issue of racial profiling and how we might think about that issue. One way you can think about it is that the question is whether racial profiling actually occurs. So in the case of the Cambridge incident, was there actual profiling that went on in that case? Or more generally, does profiling occur? Do the police profile?

If we define the issue of profiling in those terms, then the policy response is pretty straightforward. We need to do research on the statistics of the situation. We need number counting. We need to study who the police stop. We need to consider that in relationship to the likelihood that any particular person is actually predicted to commit a crime. And in fact, as I'm sure all of you know, studies of that type are already under way, and certainly there's an argument in Congress that there should be a law mandating further research of this type. And then we would use that statistical information to think about whether or not it's appropriate for the police to profile and when that might be acceptable.

What I want to talk about is a really different image of what we might be interested in understanding and that is “perceived discrimination” — that is, I'm going to talk about not whether there's actual profiling but whether people perceive that profiling has occurred. The argument that I'm going to make is really straightforward: That successful policing depends upon the behavior of the members of the public; that there are two things that we really want out of the public. We want the public to comply with police orders, to comply with the law. And we want the public to cooperate in efforts to combat crime in different communities.

The second argument that I want to make is that public behavior depends upon how the public perceives the police. That is, how people understand and interpret police behavior is crucial because it shapes whether or not people will comply with the police and cooperate in efforts to control crime.

The basic model that Laurie spoke about that I'm going to use as the basis for what I present to you today is a fairly straightforward model about people's attitudes. That if people believe that the public is experiencing fair procedures from the police — that is, if the police are exercising their authority through fair procedures — the public will believe that the police are legitimate authorities, accept their right to tell people what they should basically be doing in relationship to the law. And this leads to three positive consequences. People are more likely to defer to the police, to accept police decisions. They generally accept and obey the law in their everyday life. And they cooperate with police efforts to fight crime in their own communities. So a very simple argument: If you believe that the police are being procedurally fair, you view them as legitimate, you cooperate with them.

So the key claims that I want to make are two. First, that the way the police exercise authority, the procedures that they use are central to how people react to the police. The people are sensitive to the justice or injustice of police behavior. And second, that if the police are perceived to be legitimate, then the public will willingly and voluntarily cooperate with the police.

Now I don't think anyone would be surprised when we go back to the Gates incident to say that it clearly reflects the reality that there is a racial gap in public views about the police. This is evidence from a Pew Research Center poll that was taken shortly after the Gates incident. What it shows is a racial gap in interpretation of this event. So if you think of the Gates incident as an event, all of us drew some message from that event. White respondents were more likely to say that the incident should be blamed on Gates, on Gates' behavior. Minority group respondents were more likely to say that the incident should be blamed on the police officer. What does that tell us? That tells us that when people look at this event, and they think about what it means, they interpret it, that there's a difference based upon people's race.

I think that this is important to us as criminal justice policymakers, because the way that people understand the event shapes the way that they react to it. And my argument would be that whether people become defiant, whether they become angry, whether they resist the police, whether they're hostile towards the police, or whether they're accepting of police authority, defer to the police depends upon how they understand the event that's occurring. So if we think about that in terms of this model, the way that people understand the fairness of the actions that the police are taking in this case leads to whether they accept the legitimacy of the police to, for example, ask for identification, and then how they're going to behave. Are they going to accept what the police tell them to do? Or are they going to not accept it?

The research that I've done on profiling is related to the question of whether people perceive that they have been profiled. So when you deal with some authority like a police officer you have to decide why the experience that you're having is occurring. You could say the police officer stopped me because I was speeding. I was breaking the law. Or you could say the police officer stopped me because I'm black. Or I'm a woman. Or I'm young. Or all of those. The point is that if you perceive that you were stopped because you're black, you were profiled, you're less likely to accept the authority of the police officer. Or you're going to view their actions as less legitimate and they're going to provoke anger and not acceptance. A study of street encounters in Oakland and Los Angeles demonstrates this point. We find that when people perceive that the reason they were stopped is profiling, they're less willing to accept decisions. And in fact, when you control on the effect of this judgment, there's no ethnicity effect in acceptance of police decisions. In other words, it's all about your understanding of why you have been stopped by the police.

And I think we all noticed that perception that you've been treated unfairly provokes anger, even among highly educated, sophisticated people. And in general, there's a perception that there's a lot of procedural injustice in the form of profiling occurring. My argument is that that perception undermines effectiveness of the police.

The second part of this question is why do people think that they've been profiled? The police, as I'm sure you're well aware, don't say to people, “Oh, I stopped you because you're black.” They don't say that. They say, “You fit the description of someone,” or “There was a crime that occurred,” or whatever. So you have to infer why you were actually stopped by the police. You might say it's pretty straightforward if you're young, if you're black, if you're a female, you're more likely to say that those characteristics motivated the police action. However, I'm going to argue that the crucial issue here is the behavior of the police officer.

I mentioned that this is a study of street stops in Oakland and Los Angeles. People are asked to infer why they were stopped. And the question is what aspects of the police behavior motivated people to think they were stopped, they were profiled, stopped due to their race. What's interesting is if you look at statistics of the relative weight that people put on different issues, two issues predominate in shaping people's reactions. How they were treated by the police, in terms of whether the police were respectful, courteous, acknowledged their rights, explained their actions, and whether they thought the police were benevolent, sincere, trying to do the right thing in the situation. Whether they got a good or bad outcome was less important, and in fact if you take account of these judgments, ethnicity then became completely unimportant, which is a way of saying the most important issue that shaped whether people thought that they were profiled was how they were treated by the police. If the police treated them respectfully, with dignity, courtesy, so that it was the behavior of the police that were communicating a message that lead people to make an inference about the nature of the motivation that lead to their stop.

This idea of interpersonal treatment is central to people's reactions is something that's going to be typical of the different studies that I'll talk about certainly shows up here with racial profiling, so I'll emphasize it. What are we talking about? Feeling that you're treated with dignity and respect, feeling that your rights are respected, feeling that the authorities care about you, that they're trying to do what's right in the situation, feeling that what you say is being listened to and considered by the police even if they don't accept it. Those are the factors that lead people to feel that they receive fair treatment.

So again, fair treatment, police are legitimate, their actions are voluntarily accepted. Or conversely, unfair treatment, illegitimate, anger, hostility. So in that sense, I think that the incident in Cambridge is an example of a broader question that we might be concerned about. And that is how are people understanding their experiences with the police?

Now this point that police actions are a key issue was illustrated quite strikingly by the Gates incident. But what I would like to argue is that it's a more general statement about policing. That people react to the police in terms of the quality of the treatment that they experience when they deal with the police. That that's a crucial issue to people. The questions of dignity, courtesy, explanation, a sense that the person is trying to do the right thing, those are crucial issues. So if we think about this as a general question, not about racial profiling but about policing, the question is what legitimizes decisions or actions on the part of the police so that people are willing to accept them, voluntarily defer to them, don't have to be forced into compliance, but rather accept the authority, the legitimacy of the police, and voluntarily defer to police actions.

I'm going to give you an example of research that addresses this general question. Again, this is a large sample of street encounters that people have had and some encounters with the courts, but I won't talk about those because 85 percent of the personal experiences that people had with the law were with the police. So I'll focus on those. I don't think it's a surprise to say that the police sometimes deliver undesirable outcomes. If you've ever gotten a traffic ticket, you're aware that's something that the police do. People often call them to solve problems, and sometimes they don't solve those problems, and that's a negative outcome. Around 30 percent of the time when people deal with the police, they report that the outcome was negative. So that's a problem for the police — to gain voluntary acceptance when you sometimes have to deliver negative outcomes.

In the study of encounters with the police, we asked people about a variety of different aspects of their experience. And then we looked at the connection between those judgments and whether people willingly accepted whatever the police told them to do. To stop with their stereo at night, to pay a ticket because they'd broken the law, whatever. So think for a minute about what aspect of experience you think really affects people. It might be natural to think that people are upset if they get a bad decision. So if you get a ticket, you'd say the decision did not favor me, I didn't want a ticket. Those are outcomes. But what about the fairness of the process? Now I've mentioned in particular your interpersonal treatment — I was treated fairly by the police — but also the decisions they made were made in fair ways. Two core aspects of how the police act not what the outcome is. So think for a minute, which of these different factors will shape voluntary deference?

We divide up these different factors into outcome factors and procedural factors. We can see first that acceptance, willing acceptance, is dominated by procedural fairness, and, in particular by the quality of the treatment that people experience when they deal with the police. Dignity and respect. Respect for your rights, showing that the authority is concerned about your welfare, that they're listening to your arguments, considering what you're saying, dominates whether people say that they willingly go along with, accept the decisions made by the authority. And in fact, contrary to what many of us might initially think, whether it's a favorable or an unfavorable outcome has a minor affect on how people react. Further, this dominance of procedural fairness — quality of treatment, quality of decision-making — is true no matter what the ethnic group of the person is. If we divide this sample up into whites, African-Americans and Hispanics, we see that it really doesn't make any difference. That, in general, everyone, irrespective of their ethnic group, is primarily reacting to the police in accepting or not accepting police authority because of the process by which the police are exercising their authority and not because of the outcome being good or bad.

And it might initially seem strange to think of people not reacting to the quality of the outcome, but I can tell you as a person who has done many interviews that a number of people have stood in front of me and expressed rage about being let off in court, for example, when the judge wouldn't listen to them, the judge dismissed their case; they won. But the judge wouldn't listen to them explain their view of the situation, and they were furious. Well, that's a good outcome through a lousy process. And the point is that people are looking for a fairness of a process more than they're looking for winning or losing when they deal with legal authorities, and in this case in particular, when they deal with the police.

So the core first point is that irrespective of what ethnic group we're talking about how people are treated dominates reactions to the police and helps us to understand an incident like the Gates incident. What was really involved in the reactions of Professor Gates to the police officer? What was he really reacting to when he reacted?

Now I'm going to extend this using an example of a panel study of people in New York City, who are interviewed both prior to and following personal experiences with the police. And I'm going to raise the question that I think flows from what I've just said to you and that is it seems to be my argument that the police can actually engage in policing activities while building their legitimacy, if they exercise those activities through fair procedure. So think about the situation that you might experience. You are going home tonight — I don't know if any of you actually drive home — but you're stopped by the police to get a ticket. And as the police officer is walking back to his car, you're thinking, “You know I really respect the police,” as you wave the ticket. Is that really possible?


These are interviews with people before and after, and they're only people who received a bad outcome through fair procedure. So everyone in this sample got the ticket. But they said that the police officer treated them respectfully and listened to their arguments and didn't accept them but listened. How does it, this contact with the police, how does this affect their sense of legitimacy of the police and their willingness to cooperate? I'll work with police in my community to help fight crime. It goes up. So these people are significantly more supportive of the police after they've been stopped and given a ticket than they were before. So that, actually you can exercise authority, you can deliver negative outcomes and still build legitimacy, create cooperation as long as you're sensitive to what people really care about, which is the quality of treatment.

Well what are some policy implications of this? And I just say as a researcher I understand that I'm stepping into a mine field here because all of the policy people in the world are probably sitting in this room, and I'm not really a policy person. So, I'm speculating and I would welcome your thoughts about these policy implications. One implication I think is we have to think about a major strategy of policing that we've seen in recent years, which is zero tolerance policing. There has been a major expansion of street stops in a number of American cities under the framework of zero tolerance policing. I'm most familiar with New York City so I'll talk about that. Between 2003 and 2007, street stops in New York City went up 500 percent even though the crime rate was stable. And research suggests that the predominant focus of those stops was the minority community. So you have many, many, many, many street stops involving minority group members. More recently, the federal government has been giving money — I guess that's all of you giving money — to the police to put more police on the street, which is going to further increase street stops.

So I think that what we need to talk about in terms of research that I am presenting is what happens during street stops? That is, we need to think about how are those stops experienced by the people who are stopped? Professor Gates said something that because it was very thoughtfully framed people have repeated endlessly, which is that he experienced a teachable moment. But my argument is that every time a citizen deals with a police officer or a judge, that's a teachable moment. And what are they being taught? Are they being taught something that builds their sense of the legitimacy of the police, the legitimacy of the law, builds their motivation to cooperate with the police in fighting crime in their community? We need to think about a strategy for creating legitimacy as a goal. And we need to think about then, the experience of, of the street stops and their implications for a strategy of police legitimacy and from that a strategy of building public cooperation.

And in that spirit, I think it's important to remind you of something that we often don't think about when we think about the police. If you think about policing, the image that we usually immediately come up with is someone being stopped by the police being given a traffic ticket. But in reality, the primary reason that people deal with the police is that they call the police for help. Or they get help on the street. Those aren't calls, but the point is the main contact that people have with the police is they approach the police and ask the police to help them. Those contacts are fertile ground for teachable moments, for building legitimacy, building cooperation. Now it's certainly true that as things stand now, this is less true for minority group members. But in a sense, what we're talking about is how to change that. So that when an officer comes to Professor Gates' house, he isn't experienced in the same way that Professor Gates experienced the officer in Cambridge.

How can we think about doing that? One clear area is police training. We need to think about how to focus attention on the treatment that people receive, how the police can put people at ease, create legitimacy. Several years ago, I was actually invited to give a talk like this at the FBI Academy, which as you probably know, is the place that local police come for six weeks training before they go back to the officials in their own local police departments. And several things about that experience really stuck with me. One is the FBI Academy is in the middle of Quantico Marine Base. So all day long, when you're talking about these issues, you hear machine guns in the background. So the whole framework for these six weeks is constant machine gun fire and bullets flying. The other is while in that curriculum while there's a lot of emphasis on firearms and shooting straight and all that kind of thing, there's no emphasis on police community relations. That's not in the curriculum. My argument is we really want to focus much more on the experience of policing from the point of view from the people who are being policed. Related to that is that we have to think about what you're rewarded for if you are in fact a police officer. The predominant and often the only focus is on crime control. If that's true, then the police officer's really only thinking about a strategy for reducing the number of crimes in a short-term sense. I think we need to think about how to build legitimacy as well as how to, in an immediate sense, focus on crime control. We need to create partnerships with communities through which we can build legitimacy. I don't think that this is an idea that people haven't thought of because we have lots of examples, including DOJ, of efforts of this type. My argument would be that this is the focus we should be emphasizing and expanding.

What are some of the research implications? I think we need to study more directly, more experimentally how different aspects of the experience that people have with police officers shape their experience of fair or unfair treatment, their sense of legitimacy. And we need to think about how we can create partnerships that are also experienced as fair by members of the community. Certainly, we have community meetings with the police but those are often criticized by community members who feel they don't really have a voice in those meetings. Well, what do they mean by voice? What, what, what kind of experience would lead people to feel that they actually were involved in decisions about community policing in a fair way? That they were really cooperating to make decisions? Similarly, what's a fair process in a street encounter? What is it that people are really looking for?

The other aspect of this that I think is really important is testing policing assumptions. Now I think there are really two that are crucial here. One is the view of the police that projecting force makes them safer. This is something that I've experienced a lot in talking to police officers — the idea that dominating the situation, dominating the person is a safety issue. And in fact it's interesting that Sergeant Crowley in the Cambridge Police gave that as his explanation for his behavior during the encounter with Professor Gates, the explanation that he was concerned about his safety, which is why he was doing the things that he was doing. But are the police actually safer if they use that strategy? Wouldn't they really be safer if they used a more cooperative, procedurally just strategy, which diffuses anger and creates cooperation? Wouldn't that really be a safer approach? If you only cared about the policemen, I mean forget about the citizen, but if you only cared about the safety of the policemen, I would argue that procedural justice would be a strategy we should advocate. I think that there's research that supports this but not enough, and certainly not enough to convince the police that it's true.

The other is in the long term I would argue that you actually would more effectively reduce the crime rate through a procedural justice strategy because you would gain compliance and cooperation from the community. So that it, actually this is a strategy that in the long run will most effectively reduce crime because it will engage people in cooperation with the law, in working with the police to police their communities.

I've been talking about personal experiences because I think the Gates incident has made very clear to us personal experiences with the police can go very well or very badly. But I do think we also want to recognize that it's not just about personal encounters with the police. I don't know how many of you have had personal encounters with the police. But many middle class whites, when you call them on the phone say, “I've never dealt with the police” or “Not in the last five years. I mean I have no personal experience with the police.” Does that mean that people don't react to the police and the law? I would argue “No.” And I think what we want are two kinds of behavior from the public in general: compliance with the law and cooperation with the police. So we can think in general how do people's views about the police shape those behaviors? Again procedural justice, legitimacy, compliance and cooperation — it's the same argument, except here, it's about in general, not when you're stopped by the police for speeding.

Now to go back to the issue of race that we started out with — the fact that we might be talking general views doesn't in any way change the situation that we started out with. This is national data on confidence in the police 2004 and 2008. The white population in general has reasonably high confidence in the police, 60 to 70 percent say they have a great deal or quite a lot of confidence. The African-American population, considerably lower. So there's a major gap based upon ethnicity. A recent Pew Research Center study makes the same point. If you look at confidence in local police to enforce the law, not use excessive force, treat all races equally, we see major differences connected up to ethnicity. So we know this, in general, there's a very large gap. Do such views matter? Views about the legitimacy of the police, do they matter? This is a study of New Yorkers, actually funded by NIJ, where I looked at the impact of views on behavior obeying the law and cooperating in the sense of if there were a criminal in your community, would you report it? If the police asked you to come to a community meeting to talk about policing, would you come?

You can think about why people might obey the law and cooperate with the police. One reason is they think the police are effective. They're reducing the crime rate in my neighborhood. They're generally high quality in the sense that they do a good job policing against disorder in my community. They are fair in the outcomes I receive. If I get a ticket, I deserve it. They're fair in the outcomes they've produced for my group, my ethnic group. Or the police exercise their authority through fair procedures. What matters? Again procedural justice, that the police exercise their authority through fair procedures, dominates both the impact of judgments about the police on obeying the law and cooperating with the police. So that people in different communities in general are cooperating with the police because they think the police are exercising their authority fairly, are treating them respectfully as people so that the same thing that's true in specific encounters is also true in general.

Policy implications. I think we need to evaluate policies such as zero-tolerance policing in terms of how they impact on legitimacy and to do that we need to collect data in some periodic way on the legitimacy of the police. As it stands now, we have crime rate data and so naturally if you want some kind of performance-based measures, you have to look at crime rate because that's the data that we have. You can reward people or you can promote them based upon their ability to change the crime rate but it's much harder to react to people in terms of their impact on feelings in the community because we don't measure that. So I think we need to think about how to provide data that counterbalances this focus on crime rate by providing alternative benchmarks that we can use to evaluate policing.

Now, I've talked about personal experiences with the police and I've talked about general public reactions to policing. I want to touch briefly on two areas of direct federal responsibility in terms of policing because I know that the role of federal government in terms of local policing can be limited.

Terrorism and immigration. I think we all recognize that our concern about policing in recent years has expanded to be very focused on policing against terror threats. We then ask the question what could we do to police against terror threats? And here I think we touch on the recent recommendations of the RAND Corporation that terrorism has to be treated as a policing issue because the police have the connections that allow them to get cooperation from the relevant local communities. And in this case, that community is the Muslim community in America. So what I have done is study the views of Muslims living in New York, interviewed them about their experience with the police and looked at the connection between that experience and willingness to cooperate in their policing against terror.

We can ask the same question. We want cooperation from the community, what can the police do or how does the behavior of the police affect whether we get it? So let's think about two different issues. If there were someone building a bomb in the apartment next door, would you call the police? If there were someone spending all their time reading al-Qaida propaganda on the Internet, would you contact the police? If the police ask you to work with them and other members of the community to come up with a strategy for policing against terror in your community, would you come to a meeting? Would you help them?

OK. It's the same question: cooperation. To some degree, it's affected by whether you say that the police are effective  in fighting terror; to some degree, by whether you think terror is a serious threat; to some degree, by whether you identify with being Muslim; to some degree, by whether you think terrorism is justified. And obviously if you think it's justified, you're less likely to try to stop it. And primarily then, from my point of view, is it affected by whether you think the authorities in the process of policing against terror treat people with dignity and respect, listen to people's concerns in deciding what to do, make neutral decisions about how to enforce the law. That again is the primary issue in both forms of cooperation. The main reason that people do or do not cooperate with not just local police but the FBI, the immigration authorities is because of the way they experience those authorities as exercising their authority. That's an example of a special population, but one that I think is especially interesting to us right now.

And then immigration. I don't have any research. I don't know of any research actually at this time, but I'll speculate that some of the same questions are relevant here. There's been a lot of discussion about using the local police to enforce immigration law, and I think it fits very nicely within this framework. The question is whether that's perceived as unfair and the risk is that if it is perceived as an unfair procedure, then it undermines public cooperation with the police. Along the lines of the general argument here, we have to ask not just about if we're catching criminals but, also how is the general strategy we're using affecting people's perceptions about the authorities and their willingness to cooperate?

Again if we think about the Gates incident as a teachable moment, the tricky part always is when you have a teachable moment, what's the lesson? This I think we don't even have to really, specifically think about the Gates incident because the Attorney General raised this general question in the speech that he made is if we're going to have a dialogue about race, then what's the dialogue about? What should be the message of that dialogue? And I think the Gates incident propelled that general question forward very dramatically. I think that the research suggests two different points about race and policing. One is that in terms of what people really want when they deal with the authorities, there really aren't major differences between different ethnic groups. That is if you remember the California study everyone was evaluating the police in the same terms basically of how fairly they were treated. What's true is that minority group members are much more likely to say that they historically have not and do not now receive fair treatment, which leads to lower legitimacy ratings, less deference to the police, and less cooperation from the minority community.

Well I think then the solution to this general issue is to reframe the way we think about policing. What's the goal of policing? And in particular, I think we need to communicate the message that how members of the public irrespective of ethnicity experience the way that police are exercising policing authority and to focus on how people evaluate the things that the police do, the actions the police take when they're dealing with people in the community. And I don't say this, although I think you could easily say this on normative grounds, it's the right thing to do. I'm not saying it for that reason. I'm saying that because it affects what we most need to make policing work. It affects whether people defer to the police, cooperate with the police, view the police as legitimate authorities in their community. So we need to have the public thinking the police are acting fairly because we want the public to cooperate with the police.

As always from my point of view, the really tricky issue here is to think about how to make it happen so I keep trying to think about what's in it for the police? Since I think we often feel that we don't have a real lever to get the police to want to change. I think there are two potential levers. One is the argument, which I've made that I think is supported by research that this is a better way to achieve the goal of social order. That is public cooperation is necessary to effectively manage crime and it's a better way to achieve it than force.

Second, which as I said, I think is supported by research, although there could be more, is that the police would be better off. They would have a safer and less hostile working environment if they adopted a different strategy of policing. As I said, I think we all recognize that we have to find ways to emphasize gains to the police if we're going to change police culture. We have in fact treated the police the way I'm saying you shouldn't treat the public in the sense that a lot of our strategies are about delivering punishments to the police for inappropriate behavior through accountability, punishment, lawsuits, litigation. My argument is we want the police to cooperate so what we really need to do is change what the police want to do by showing the benefits of adopting this new strategy.

Why would we focus first on this strategy of building legitimacy? I think the point is that for most of the people in society, if we can engage their values then we get the general benefits of cooperation. If there is a smaller group, and most criminologists would say that there is a smaller group, who can't really be effectively touched in this way, we may have to use more traditionally based force for this smaller group. But we would free up an enormous amount of resources by engaging the larger group of people who can be engaged through values. The strategy of using force, the dominant strategy now is undermining of the model that I'm describing because it leads people to think of their relationship with the law, the police as one defined in terms of risk.

Like most you, when I'm driving on the freeway, I define my relationship with the state police primarily in terms of risk and I think if we think of creating that kind of a culture more generally. And we're undermining the relationship between people and the community, the relationship that's the basis of cooperation. So we can think of this more generally as two different models that go in different directions. The sanction model, the role of legitimacy declines, we need to increase sanctions, we need to have a larger police force, build more prisons because cooperation goes down, public resistance goes up. Or we can imagine going this way, we build legitimacy, sanctions become less central, behavior is increasingly shaped by people's desire to cooperate. We can have fewer police and prisons, we can rely on people more to cooperate in policing.

I think that this is a great moment, great teachable moment. To think about how we would all want to redefine and transform policing. And I argue that we have a general strategy that actually a lot of evidence supports that would address the concerns of all the people in America — white or minority — about what they're really wanting or looking for from the police, from the courts, and we should build upon that approach by trying to change the style of policing that dominates so that we can motivate voluntary acceptance and willing cooperation.

So there are two key arguments just to finish. That legitimacy matters. That it's important for authorities to have legitimacy because that motivates voluntary behavior, not compliance, but voluntary behavior, acceptance, cooperation. And that we actually know a lot about how to create and maintain legitimacy. It's all about people's experience of the fairness of the processes by which the police are exercising authority. And to me that's a crucial argument because if you said that you can't have legitimacy if you deliver negative outcomes then we'd say the police can't win because if they give you a ticket you don't like them. But that's not true, that's not what the evidence suggests. You can exercise appropriate authority and still gain legitimacy if you do it in ways that people understand to be fair.

Just two quick benefits. One benefit: everyone loves procedural justice no matter how we cut it up in our studies white, minority, rich, poor, liberal, conservative, everyone thinks that the most important issue when they're evaluating authority is the fairness of the procedures. So in multicultural or diverse situations you're addressing the concerns of all the different groups you're dealing with. And the other, which I put forward in this era of recession and austerity, is it doesn't cost a lot of money. In fact, it saves money because you're reallocating resources from expensive surveillance and sanctioning to models that are much more reliant on people's own willing cooperation.

And just finally, although it's a broader comment than the comments about policing, I think all the same arguments suggest that we might think about a generally different strategy of dealing with issues in criminal justice that deterrence and punitiveness is generally an American model, American characteristic but there's a lot of evidence like the evidence I have shown you. That if we focus more on building values like legitimacy, we focus more on reconnecting people with values, following rule breaking that that might be a long-term strategy that's much more effective and actually cheaper.

Thank you.


Robinson: Well, Tom that was extraordinarily provocative and broad-ranging. So let me now open it up to comments and some questions. I hope that though it's a long presentation that you're willing to answer questions. Let's start out here with Kris Rose.

Kris Rose: Tom, thank you for that presentation. It was fascinating. My question is if in a particular jurisdiction there's a police incident that damages the legitimacy in that community — can you earn that legitimacy back? And how difficult is it and what has to happen in order to earn it back?

Tom Tyler: Well I think that in general what we find is if you start with lower legitimacy, it's always more of a challenge, but at every level of the legitimacy you can raise legitimacy through the experience of fair procedures on the part of the community. Either through personal experiences that people have or through general information that people get about what the police are doing, how the police are treating people.

That is, we always find that if people have the perception that the police are fair, that their legitimacy goes up. And I don't want to be unaware of the situation that you are raising because certainly if you're starting out with bad relations between the police and the community, it's more of a long-term strategy. But we still do find that if people start at low levels of legitimacy they move up as they experience increasing evidence of fairness on the part of the police. So I think it is a viable strategy.

Tyler: I'm sorry.

Questioner: (Off mic)

Mary Lou Leary: Hi, I'm Mary Lou Leary. Just as a follow-on to Kris' question. In a community like Chicago, where they have long history of very bad relationships between the community and the police, is part of the long-term strategy to regain legitimacy? In your view would that have to include frank dialogue about the past?

Tyler: Well, I definitely believe that people are very sensitive to whether or not their concerns are being listened to and addressed. I think it would involve allowing people to honestly express their concerns about the police and have the police react to those in some way. What I think is encouraging is that when people feel that authorities are honestly considering what they're saying and listening to them, getting what they want in specific terms doesn't seem to be the crucial issue. What people have been offended by in community meetings with the police is the sense that the police come in with an agenda and just tell them what the agenda is. So there is something to be worked on in terms of creating a police culture that really wants to cooperate with the police. But we have seen that, for example, in Boston, communication between the police and administrators seems to be more of a genuine, cooperative strategy. I think it can happen. But I think that the, the genuineness of the police interest in hearing minority concerns is probably the issue.

Laurie Robinson: Let's go over here. Chief Bueermann.

Jim Bueermann: Good morning. My name is Jim Bueermann, and I'm a police chief in Southern California. So, I have a couple comments and then a question for you. So I want to predicate this. My question really, on my comments. First of all, as a practitioner, I appreciate your presentation and hope that it is now blasting over the YouTube universe for police officers and police chiefs around the world to see.

Robinson: By the way, I should interrupt to say that this was recorded.

Bueermann: I was hoping so.

Robinson: So perhaps it is on YouTube.


Bueermann: And I hope it does. And, and I say that, I'm being a little flip, but for a reason. Because YouTube has probably done as much to damage, collectively I think, the image of police officers as anywhere. You know, these little video cameras are everywhere. You can literally now be on the Internet and YouTube within a minute of an incident being occurred or having occurred. And my kids have pointed out probably 30 different, very unattractive videos of police officers treating people very poorly, as their own way of pointing out to me this notion of police legitimacy. The wonder of teenagers in your family, right?

I'm going to speak specifically to California; that's the system I know best. There is a complete disconnect between how we train and socialize young cops and the notion that you just put forward. And if there is a way somehow to inject these notions into the, the basic training, the place that we begin the process of teaching police officers how to be cops in this country, that makes imminent sense to me because the, you use a term that makes sense to me, but the term we use is this notion of “command presence” and the “use of force continuum.” And there is no discussion when you are teaching young cops about why when you show up at the scene of some incident — doesn't matter what it is — you have to be in charge. And how you can be in charge and at the same time, not treat people unfairly. And why it's important to explain people your actions and all of that.

We've reframed, in fact, our traffic stop procedures — as have many departments — to instead of starting out the interaction between the motorist and the police officer, where we typically walk up and say, “Let me see your license and registration, please,” then we walk back to our car, and the next time you see us is when we're handing you a ticket or whatever. Turning that around and saying, “Good afternoon, my name is Officer Bueermann, and I've stopped you because you were speeding. Is there some reason you might have been speeding?” And then we give you the opportunity to explain to us what was going on in your head, or why you were doing, before we've ever now taken that step. Because I can ask you for your license and registration any time I want. I've got you. I have just detained you, and you're not going anywhere until I say you get to go someplace, right? But we don't think of it that way because we're in charge and that's the issue of “command presence.”

I'll also tell you what you talked about will make sense if you translate it into the words the police officers understand. Good traffic officers can get people to thank them for giving them a ticket. It's called “selling the ticket.”


But, but this notion of legitimacy is something that narcotics officers that have lots of informants that willingly cooperate with them, gang suppression officers that have gang members actually cooperate with them. We have officers assigned to re-entry efforts have parolees tell them about crimes and other things. And school — cops that work certain downtown areas where there are street youth around will frequently tell you that the kids cooperate with them. But not because they're wearing a uniform, and they're the bad guys. It's because they treat them with dignity and respect, and they'll come talk to them. So I can't encourage you more to do this, and maybe we can chat afterwards about how I get your PowerPoint that I can then distribute to my buddies.

But here's my question for you. There's this whole issue for us, at least in my city, has been for quite awhile about the metrics we use — performance measurements. And I love to use the phrase “measuring what matters” because I think that captures it all, and that's a longtime NIJ notion that I think needs to be flushed out continually because it changes a little bit. How to use — you talked about collecting data on legitimacy — very quickly without, I've taken way more time than I meant to, but how do you measure that in a way that's quick and dirty and effective that police departments can do?  And embed that as a metric relative to their performance so that we can take this to scale and not just talk about it from an intellectual perspective, but actually make this happen where I, as a police chief, am rated, evaluated — I keep my job, or not, based on this notion of legitimacy? What's the easiest way to measure that, and do you have a questionnaire or survey or something? Thanks.

Tyler: Well, first, it's really great to hear from someone who has on-the-street experience that these ideas make sense. So that's great. That's encouraging. As to measuring it, I'm happy to give you questionnaires. We have questionnaires both on essentially a community level, like the questions I showed you about national surveys. We have questionnaires that we give people after they have a personal experience — for example kind of an exit interview strategy: “The police stopped you last week. We'd like to ask you a couple questions about your experience.” I mean both of those — we can easily give you that.

Questioner: Thank you again for coming to speak with us. I think this was a very enlightening presentation, and I followed your argument through procedural justice leading to legitimacy and leading to cooperation for the police. And it's something that we see in our policing strategies. Sometimes the most successful policing strategies actually lead to an increase in 911 calls. Counterintuitive, but it's because the people in the communities are now trustful of the police and, and make those calls.

So I understand the important role of community cooperation and crime suppression. But my question is whether or not any of the research that you've done, or that you're aware of, links offender behavior with this perception of police legitimacy? And what brought it to mind is — I'm not going to share my license plate with anyone here, but I also speed down the highway. And I believe that the police are extraordinarily legitimate, and I have a very high view of the police. But that doesn't change my behavior when I'm going down the highway. So I'm wondering whether or not you have a — if there's a connection between offender behavior and police legitimacy, in addition to community cooperation and otherwise generally relying on the police as someone who could help when you're the person in trouble?

Tyler: We definitely have research that uses re-arrest as the concern. So for example, some research that Larry Sherman and I did on re-arrest after people had an adjudication experience for driving while drunk. We looked over the four years after their adjudication experience and showed that if they were fairly treated during — they perceived they were fairly treated, they thought the law was more legitimate — basically their rate of re-offending was about 20 percent of that of people who didn't feel the law was legitimate because they didn't experience their courtroom time as procedurally just.

So that's an example. I mean that tries to address exactly the concern that you're raising. And that is re-offending behavior, specifically as reflected in, for example, police statistics. And I'd be happy to actually give you references to that if you want. OK.

Robinson: Steve Rickman.

Steve Rickman: Yeah, you mentioned the term, “engagement through values,” and you talked about community partnerships. What are some examples that the police departments can do to have sort of an overall effect on creating a sense of policing legitimacy in their communities that go beyond the direct contacts?

Tyler: I think that one example would be the work in Boston where the police have approached prominent ministers. They've set up periodic meetings to cooperate in discussing strategies for managing the community. Those seem to have been very successful in a lot of ways: building better sense of police legitimacy, building a strategy that everyone cooperates to try to implement. From what I understand the key is the perception in the community that the police are really trying to cooperate. They're not just coming in and issuing orders in these meetings, but they're actually listening to community concerns and community views about what should be done. And that is part of a procedural justice strategy is you have to be willing to think about the other person's point of view. Not necessarily do what they want but engage in thinking about what their concerns are, as well. But I would use that as an example. People may know other cities, but that's one that I'm aware of.

Robinson: I think we had one over here. Phelan Wyrick.

Phelan Wyrick: Just to pick up on Chief Bueermann's point about the use of force continuum and, and the training that law enforcement officers receive. It's — as you talk about these issues, it makes me think about the level of cooperation or lack of cooperation that officers receive when they do engage with the public. Sometimes the person they're engaging with is the one sort of escalating it. And the question is really to what extent are police officers really getting the type of training they need to be focusing on de-escalating situations at the same time that they're getting training that they absolutely need to move up the use of force continuum as they need to?

Tyler: Well, I think the argument that I've made is that there's not enough emphasis on de-escalating tactics and that a set of tactics are involved in the way you treat people to begin with. So I would very much advocate more attention to those issues. I certainly also agree with you that no one is saying that you shouldn't also get training in how to defend yourself. But there's a way in which de-escalation is a defense, and I think that's the point that doesn't get emphasized enough.

Robinson: Question in the back.

Questioner: Hi, yes. Good morning. I have a question in how much do you think the media plays in building legitimacy and cooperation in communities? And do you feel that — do you have any ideas on strategies in which to use the media to increase legitimacy and cooperation in the community?

Tyler: I don't think there's any question but that the media has an important role. And the chief already mentioned YouTube. But the media, YouTube, I mean the whole culture in which people see examples of police mistreatment in all different forms has emerged in an amazing way in the last few years. And certainly I think we want that to happen if it leads to a change in police behavior, but it certainly creates images that the police have to overcome. I think that the police need to work equally hard to make clear what they're doing in a good way. It's very clear that good things that the police do increase their legitimacy. Just the way bad things that they do decrease their legitimacy. So the police can build legitimacy by making people more aware of the things that they're doing that are responsive to the community, that are helpful. You know, that are valuable in controlling crime, either in the media, through neighborhood meetings, through personal experiences. However they want to do that. So I think that if the police come to believe that the feelings of people in the community are really central then they can come up with a lot of strategies that they can use to achieve that goal.

Robinson: Al, did you have a question?

Questioner: Yes, I just wanted to ask, Dr. — I read your paper and I was just riveted by it.

Tyler: Thank you.

Questioner: And I enjoyed your presentation. When you talked about possible solutions as far as police training, have you given any thought as to what it might look like? And, and are we doing — can we do something different in terms of how we shape police training?

Tyler: I have been doing a lot of work on training in the context of the courts because the California courts have actually made procedural justice the centerpiece of their court redesign plan, and they're developing all these strategies for creating procedural justice in the courts. And I think there are similar issues in training essentially the police to communicate with people, to show responsiveness to people's concerns. In the courts they've done all sorts of things, like trained the people that you deal with when you come into the courthouse in essentially what they call “customer service” — treating everyone as a customer and thinking about how can we explain the procedures, treat them so that they feel satisfied with their experience in court. I think talking about customer service in the context of the police might be annoying to the police. I don't think that's the way they think about it. But the idea that you need to equally focus on how people come out of that encounter, what they feel when they're done with that and not just the outcome that you've achieved as a training objective would be doable. I mean another area where's there's a lot of training along these lines is in work organizations' training for managers. And it's definitely been shown that training works, through longitudinal studies. That you can change the behavior of managers that they are perceived by the people they manage as fairer after they have training. So we know training can work.

Robinson: Chip Stewart. Chip, you don't need a microphone.

Chip Stewart: Very good. Thank you. Thank you, Tom, for an important set of insights and then tying it also to the Gates case, which gives us a contemporary feel. I think that's really important. A couple of the issues I want to bring up since this is the federal government. And a couple of them is that nothing puts the police at risk both personally is the sense that they feel like they can be injured at any moment. The other thing is that the community also feels personally at risk because they feel that they could be injured at any moment. And one of the things the federal government has done is they worked on less-than-lethal weapons, which has been a really important advancement. The other thing is that the development of the ballistic body armor has protected the police against the unexpected shot, and it created survivability.

You talked about California. One of the things that we struggle with is the federal government's civil rights division who has moved in very aggressively to areas to force legitimacy in terms of consent-agrees, negotiated settlements. And the most celebrated case recently is the one in L.A. that they just recently were able to get relief from. What I'm thinking is I've worked with a couple of cities who are struggling with this and taking what you have to say, is it OK? How do you operationalize it? How can you put it into police work? I mean it sounds easy. That's what happens with a lot of research is you get a nugget of truth that resonates. The difficulty is trying to translate that into daily operations to the sense of, how we can operate differently. And that's one of those things that we haven't done a very good job of, but what we're trying — I don't know if you have any insights on this because you are continuing to work in this area. So if you could share that with me about how we might be able to sort of take your idea and say, “OK, how is it that we would change the way, I mean the really fundamental way — the way the police operate?” I mean they operate on quick calls, get in, get out, move to the next thing. You know, they get these suspect names, they move in, and they, you know, like that.

Questioner: Racial profiling difficulties …

Tyler: Right.

Questioner: (Off mic.) … studies about that?

Tyler: Well, this is the core issue that you're raising. So you're putting your finger right on what we really need to be thinking about. As I mentioned, studies suggest that training can work. So I think the question is how do we motivate police departments to want to have training and then motivate officers to want to actually accept that training and change their behavior? To me there seem to be several arguments. One is that it is a more effective strategy in the long term for reducing crime and violent behavior so that that is the goal of policing, and if people are rewarded for engaging in the kind of behavior that produces that effect — not an immediate arrest, for example — but leaving people feeling good about the police, feeling they're legitimate, wanting to cooperate, then the way the police will approach their experiences with people will change.

The other, then I think the thing we have to do is we have to convince people in positions of authority that that really should be their goal, to think of public views about the police as a criterion just like the crime rate that they should be measuring and that they should be benchmarking against.

The final thing I would say is — now I haven't really talked about the experience of police officers in police departments, but that has been studied. And, essentially the way the police act on the street is a reflection of the experience that they have in the stationhouse. So if you have police commanders that treat the police in procedurally just ways when the police are essentially dealing with their own authority structure, that's a very powerful motivator of the police following workplace rules out on the street — in other words, not abusing their authority, doing as they're directed by their management, by their police superiors — so that all of these arguments about fair treatment that we've been discussing in terms of the public having a kind of a parallel root in terms of the actual in-the-station experience of the police.

I mean, just to put that very simply, if the police, when they deal with their beat supervisors feel that they're fairly treated, then they are more highly motivated to follow workplace rules and not abuse their authority on the street. So then I guess a third point is we need to think about how to communicate to commanders that they themselves should be more responsive to their officers in terms of treating them fairly, listening to them, respect for them and that will motivate the officers then to be more rule-following.

Robinson: We have time for just one more question. We're going to take Chuck Wexler, who is here, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum.

Chuck Wexler: Hi. Dr. Tyler, I really enjoyed your presentation. I confirmed a lot of things that I was thinking about. But I wanted to answer as a way of responding to you, Mary Lou Leary's question about Chicago. Because this is — I'll try to make this really short — but I worked in Chicago for four years. They had asked me to come to Chicago to talk about racial profiling and the Chicago Police Department. And this was Terry Hillard, the superintendent. I said, “Well, what, I don't think a white guy coming into Chicago talking about racial profiling is really going to work.” And he said, “You know, you guys have done all this work,” and so forth. I said, “Well, how about we get — this is the second largest police department in the country — we get all of your exempts, which is about 100, and 100 community members, and we pick 50 from that. And we ask them what they think racial profiling is and so forth?” And so we did that. And this is over four years, 40 meetings I went to.

The first meeting was a lot about race and racial profiling and so forth. After that, they quickly went into the things that you were talking about. About how you treat people, how you communicate with people, whether you respect people and so forth. All of those things, so, it really, it went from race to these other things. And the race issue dissipated if you dealt — the way you talked about procedures. Every so often an incident would happen in Chicago, something bad would happen. And someone would say, “See nothing has changed.” The people who had been going to this said, “No, in fact things had changed.” And I think the way we reinforce that was continue doing this and making video tapes of engaging and disengaging with the communities.

One time we made a video tape — the Chicago Police Department made it. We showed our group, and it was an African-American person being very contentious with the police officer. We showed it to the group, and they said, “No, no, you don't have it right. That's not how it occurs.” Destroyed that video tape and made it again. So I think this kind of thing is really where you build trust incrementally over time. But it is exactly like you said. The process really trumps the outcome. If they get the process right and, it's like what Jim said, engaging and disengaging and taking that time is really important. So I think what you've said here is a really good insight into this whole problem. And I thank you.

Robinson: And, and with that, let's all join in thanking Dr. Tom Tyler.


Date Created: August 20, 2019