Date of Award


Document Type

Open Access Dissertation


Criminology and Criminal Justice

First Advisor

Scott E. Wolfe


In recent years, police legitimacy has generated a great deal of scholarly attention. Numerous studies carried out in a variety of settings have demonstrated that citizens are more likely to perceive the police as a legitimate authority when they interact with citizens in a procedurally fair way. In turn, citizens become more likely to accept police decisions, comply with the law, and cooperate with the police. Yet until very recently, scholars have only focused on citizen perceptions of legitimacy while neglecting the perspective of the police themselves. It may very well be that the police believe other ideals are more important than procedural justice in terms of establishing legitimacy. Accordingly, Anthony Bottoms and Justice Tankebe suggest that legitimacy should be treated as an ongoing dialogue between power-holders and audiences. The present study adds to a very limited body of research applying this dialogic model to understand legitimacy by surveying a nationally representative sample of U.S. police executives about how they believe citizens residing in different areas of the community evaluate their agencies and their officers. Findings suggest that respondents do in fact appear to be aware that procedural fairness is important to citizens in terms of establishing legitimacy. However, respondents do not appear to realize that citizens are more likely to cooperate with the police when they perceive them as legitimate. Instead, they believe performance is the key to generating cooperation. There also appear to be key differences in how officers believed they are perceived by residents of high crime areas and residents of low crime areas. Finally, the present study considers whether individual characteristics of the responding officers moderate the strength of relationships between key theoretical variables and legitimacy outcomes. In a similar fashion, the present study explores the possibility that officers believe citizens’ perceptions of collective efficacy, disorder, their perceived risk of being caught and punished for breaking the law, or their cynicism toward the law moderate the aforementioned relationships. Practical and theoretical implications are discussed in the final chapter.