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Trust in the Law

Encouraging Public Cooperation with the Police and Courts Through

Tom R. Tyler, Yuen J. Huo

Publication Year: 2002

Public opinion polls suggest that American's trust in the police and courts is declining. The same polls also reveal a disturbing racial divide, with minorities expressing greater levels of distrust than whites. Practices such as racial profiling, zero-tolerance and three-strikes laws, the use of excessive force, and harsh punishments for minor drug crimes all contribute to perceptions of injustice. In Trust in the Law, psychologists Tom R. Tyler and Yuen J. Huo present a compelling argument that effective law enforcement requires the active engagement and participation of the communities it serves, and argue for a cooperative approach to law enforcement that appeals to people's sense of fair play, even if the outcomes are not always those with which they agree. Based on a wide-ranging survey of citizens who had recent contact with the police or courts in Oakland and Los Angeles, Trust in the Law examines the sources of people's favorable and unfavorable reactions to their encounters with legal authorities. Tyler and Huo address the issue from a variety of angles: the psychology of decision acceptance, the importance of individual personal experiences, and the role of ethnic group identification. They find that people react primarily to whether or not they are treated with dignity and respect, and the degree to which they feel they have been treated fairly helps to shape their acceptance of the legal process. Their findings show significantly less willingness on the part of minority group members who feel they have been treated unfairly to trust the motives to subsequent legal decisions of law enforcement authorities. Since most people in the study generalize from their personal experiences with individual police officers and judges, Tyler and Huo suggest that gaining maximum cooperation and consent of the public depends upon fair and transparent decision-making and treatment on the part of law enforcement officers. Tyler and Huo conclude that the best way to encourage compliance with the law is for legal authorities to implement programs that foster a sense of personal involvement and responsibility. For example, community policing programs, in which the local population is actively engaged in monitoring its own neighborhood, have been shown to be an effective tool in improving police-community relationships. Cooperation between legal authorities and community members is a much discussed but often elusive goal. Trust in the Law shows that legal authorities can behave in ways that encourage the voluntary acceptance of their directives, while also building trust and confidence in the overall legitimacy of the police and courts.

Published by: Russell Sage Foundation

Title Page, Copyright

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About the Authors

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pp. ix-x

Tom R. Tyler is University Professor of Psychology at New York University...

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pp. xi-xii

The argument outlined in this volume is based on a study conducted in Oakland and Los Angeles, California, and is further supported by several...

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pp. xiii-xvi

This book addresses issues of regulation and examines the role of outcomes, procedural justice, and trust in shaping public willingness to defer to legal authorities. We focus on the strategies that legal authorities can use to bring...

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Part I. Strategies of Regulation

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pp. 1-2

THE PROBLEM of regulation becomes important whenever society and social authorities are responsible for enforcing rules that limit people's conduct. In our society...

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Chapter 1. Gaining the Public's Acceptance of the Decisions of Legal Authorities

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pp. 3-18

OUR DISCUSSION of regulation begins with an issue of central concern to police officers and judges: the need to have their decisions accepted during personal...

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Chapter 2. Theories and Strategies of Regulation

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pp. 19-27

REGARDLESS of whether legal authorities are providing help or regulating behavior, we can ask what it is they need from members of the public to be effective...

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Chapter 3. The California Study of Personal Experiences with the Police and the Courts

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pp. 28-46

To EXAMINE the role of procedural justice and motive-based trust in activating intrinsic motivations, we focus in this chapter on the results of a study conducted...

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Part II. The Psychology of Decision Acceptance

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pp. 47-48

WE HAVE set out two interrelated social motives-procedural justice and motive-based trust-as the foundation for our model of process-based regulation...

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Chapter 4. Procedural Justice and Decision Acceptance

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pp. 49-57

THE SOCIAL-PSYCHOLOGICAL literature on justice suggests another reason besides desirability that people accept third-party decisions: the fairness of the process...

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Chapter 5. Motive-Based Trust and Decision Acceptance

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pp. 58-75

THE SECOND social factor that may shape individuals' willing acceptance of the decisions of legal authorities is motive-based trust. Trust in a person's...

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Chapter 6. The Overall Influence of Social Motives on Decision Acceptance

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pp. 76-96

TWO SOCIAL motives, procedural justice and motive-based trust, have been considered separately, and each has been shown to influence decision acceptance...

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Part II. Societal Orientations and Personal Experiences

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pp. 97-100

INTERVIEWS in the California study focused on people's personal experiences with legal authorities. In our discussions up to this point we have been concerned with understanding...

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Chapter 7. Societal Orientations: Legitimacy and Connections with Society

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pp. 101-122

OUR FIRST concern is with people's general orientation toward the law and legal authorities. Legitimacy reflects people's views about the degree to which...

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Chapter 8. Societal Orientations and Reactions to Personal Experiences with Legal Authorities

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pp. 123-129

WE HAVE already examined the psychology underlying people's reactions during their personal experiences with legal authorities. We found that the behavior...

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Chapter 9. Generalizing from Personal Experiences to Societal Orientations

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pp. 130-138

OUR FINAL concern is with the implications of personal experience for general societal orientations. People have to make decisions about what to do in the immediate...

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Part IV. Ethnic Group Differences in Experiences with the Law

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pp. 139-140

IN DESIGNING the sample for the California survey, we focused on the race or ethnicity of the people we interviewed. The study was stratified to draw approximately equal...

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Chapter 10. Ethnicity and Experiences with Legal Authorities

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pp. 141-152

BOTH ANECDOTAL and observation-based studies suggest that the police and the courts often subject the members of minority groups to biased treatment (Cole 1999)...

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Chapter 11. Variations in the Psychology of Experience

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pp. 153-164

WHAT ROLE do procedural justice and motive-based trust play in gaining decision acceptance from individuals of different ethnicity?...

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Chapter 12. Group Boundaries and Subgroup Identification

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pp. 165-174

THIS chapter, we examine two issues that arise in interactions between legal authorities and minority group members. The first is the consequence of dealing with an authority who...

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Part V. Implications and Conclusions

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pp. 175-176

OUR DISCUSSION has focused on people's personal experiences with legal authorities, with the goal of understanding how police officers and judges...

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Chapter 13. General Views About the Law and the Legal System

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pp. 177-197

JUST AS it is often assumed that the outcomes that people receive when they deal with specific police officers and judges shape their reactions to those encounters, it is often believed that instrumental issues, such as the cost of going to court, court delays, or...

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Chapter 14. Implications for Policing

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pp. 198-203

THIS BOOK is not only about policing. Members of the public deal with both the police and the courts. However, as the findings of the studies reviewed suggest...

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Chapter 15. Process-Based Regulation

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pp. 204-208

WE HAVE examined various strategies that the police and the courts can use to regulate people's behaviors. Our particular interest is in those behaviors...

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Chapter 16. Psychological Jurisprudence

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pp. 209-216

THE PROCESS-BASED strategy of regulation that we advocate is one aspect of a more general strategy of psychological jurisprudence. Psychological jurisprudence is the...

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pp. 217-226

An alternative view is that people's feelings may become more positive when they have a good experience, and less positive when they have a bad experience. If so, then the key question is the mean level of experiencewhether most experiences...


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pp. 227-240


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pp. 241-248

E-ISBN-13: 9781610445429
Print-ISBN-13: 9780871548894
Print-ISBN-10: 0871548895

Page Count: 264
Publication Year: 2002

Series Title: Russell Sage Foundation Series on Trust
Series Editor Byline: Karen S. Cook, Russell Hardin, Margaret Levi, series editors

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Trust -- United States.
  • Social control -- United States.
  • Justice, Administration of -- United States -- Public opinion.
  • Law enforcement -- United States -- Public opinion.
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