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19 September 2012

Trust and the Police

When on the street would you walk up to a policeman for help? Does the idea of police instigate fear or a sense of security?

The police are the closet point of contact to the public in terms of representation of the justice system. The police are supposed to observe if the public follow the law and that general public order is maintained. Hence, at a point where the citizens feel threatened they should approach the police for help or for protection. This trend has been seen to fall over the decades. Many countries in Europe have seen a decline of trust in the police. The general public is so fear driven that they don’t see the police as an authority of help but rather of trouble. There is rather a disparity in the level of trust in the police over the countries in Europe; several multilevel studies have been conducted to study the same.

The European Social survey in 2011 found that the trust in the police is a rapidly deteriorating in Britain and as an effect there is a decline in the rate of legitimacy as compared to the other European countries. This scenario has caused many people to resort to ‘community policing’. This trend of deteriorating trust in the police in-turn affects the justice system. People have a lower tendency to report crimes. And this disregard for the justice system brings down the rate of compliance with law hence increasing the crime rates. This ends up as a viscous cycle.

Trust of the citizens on the police is also attributed to the way the citizens are treated by the police, it is viewed that in northern Europe the level of trust is the highest as the people there consider themselves to be safe and have great reliance on the public administration. Here the police are said to be more approachable and hence the citizens feel like the police is on their side. A recent study in Europe showed that trust in the police is like a 3 legged stool. Citizens need to trust the competence of the police officers, their procedural fairness and their distributive fairness.

The general perception of people in terms of law is that they would follow what seemed to be along the same lines as their personal values. The law makers frame the laws and set the guidelines but what go unnoticed are the values of the people. Unless the law is in accordance with those values it would be, if not completely but to a large extent, disregarded by a significant section of citizens. There would not be a feeling of moral obligation in the people to follow a certain law. For obvious reasons it is not possible to frame laws in compliance with the general public wish but the trust in the police would go a long way to help in compliance and legitimacy of a law.