Legitimacy as a Mechanism for Police to Promote Collective Efficacy and Reduce Crime and Disorder




Kochel, Tammy Rinehart

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Prior research showed that when collective efficacy is strong, it mediates the effects of concentrated disadvantage, and neighborhoods experience less crime. An untested theory about legitimacy suggests that legal institutions may be a catalyst for neighborhoods to improve collective efficacy. Legitimacy theory claims that when societies grant legal institutions legitimacy, people internalize rules and laws upheld by legal institutions, socialize others to those rules and laws, and adhere to the formal authority of legal institutions, which reduces crime. This dissertation is interested in the process by which people socialize others to rules and laws in the form of collective efficacy, examining whether views about police behaviors are related to legal institution legitimacy and collective efficacy. I theorized that police can improve legal institution legitimacy by delivering high quality services and minimizing misconduct, thus strengthening collective efficacy in neighborhoods and reducing crime and disorder. Conducting the research in Trinidad and Tobago extends the boundaries of prior research on collective efficacy and legitimacy beyond the United States, Britain, and other developed nations, into a developing nation that is wrestling with difficult challenges, including widespread disadvantage, inadequate infrastructure, acute violence, corruption, and cynicism and distrust among its people. Trinidad’s circumstances provided the opportunity to examine the linkages between police misbehavior and legal institutions and community outcomes in an environment fraught with challenges for police and neighborhoods to overcome. Additionally, in this context, I studied the linkages between delivering higher quality services and legal institution legitimacy, collective efficacy, and crime and disorder, even when the overall level of services is constrained to be low. I found that police behavior in Trinidad and Tobago has important consequences for legal institution legitimacy and for neighborhood outcomes. The results support that police may contribute to and utilize neighborhood collective efficacy as a lever to reduce crime and disorder problems. The results, however, do not (in general) support that the mechanism through which police accomplish this is legal institution legitimacy. The conclusions uphold the strong relationship between collective efficacy and crime and disorder, but leave in doubt whether legal institution legitimacy provides a pathway for increasing collective efficacy.



Collective efficacy, Legitimacy, Police, Crime, Police misconduct, Trinidad and Tobago