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Identity, Legitimacy and Cooperation With Police: Comparing General-Population and Street-Population Samples From London

Stott, Clifford; Radburn, Matthew



Social identity is a core aspect of procedural justice theory, which predicts that fair treatment at the hands of power holders such as police expresses, communicates, and generates feelings of inclusion, status, and belonging within salient social categories. In turn, a sense of shared group membership with power holders, with police officers as powerful symbolic representatives of “law-abiding society,” engenders trust, legitimacy, and cooperation. Yet, this aspect of the theory is rarely explicitly considered in empirical research. Moreover, the theory rests on the underexamined assumption that the police represent one fixed and stable superordinate group, including the often-marginalized people with whom they interact, and that it is only superordinate identification that is important to legitimacy and cooperation. In this article, we present results from two U.K.-based studies that explore the identity dynamics of procedural justice theory. We reason that the police not only represent the “law-abiding, national citizen” superordinate group but also are a symbol of order/conflict and a range of connected social categories that can generate relational identification. First, we used a general-population sample and found that relational identification with police and identification as a law-abiding citizen mediated some of the association between procedural justice and legitimacy and were both stronger predictors of cooperation than legitimacy. Second, a sample of people living on the streets of London was used to explore these same relationships among a highly marginalized group for whom the police might represent a salient outgroup. We found that relational and superordinate identification were both strong positive predictors of cooperation, whereas legitimacy was not. These results have important implications for our understanding of both police legitimacy and public cooperation, as well as the extent to which police activity can serve to include—or exclude—members of the public. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2021 APA, all rights reserved)


Stott, C., & Radburn, M. (2021). Identity, Legitimacy and Cooperation With Police: Comparing General-Population and Street-Population Samples From London. Psychology, Public Policy, and Law, 492 - 508.

Acceptance Date Nov 1, 2021
Publication Date Nov 1, 2021
Journal Psychology, Public Policy, and Law
Print ISSN 1076-8971
Publisher American Psychological Association
Pages 492 - 508
Publisher URL