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It’s a matter of (change over) time: the role of police conduct on the dynamics of attitudes towards legal authority

Oliveira, Thiago R. (2022) It’s a matter of (change over) time: the role of police conduct on the dynamics of attitudes towards legal authority. PhD thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science.

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Identification Number: 10.21953/lse.00004396


This thesis draws on procedural justice theory and work into legal socialisation and legal cynicism to investigate the dynamics of public perceptions of trustworthiness and legitimacy of legal authority over time. Illustrating how longitudinal data can be theoretically fruitful in studies on public-police relations, I rely upon several analytic strategies that exploit panel data to examine attitudinal change over time. To examine the development of legitimacy judgements during adolescence, the mutual reproduction of different aspects of police trustworthiness over time, and the degree to which police contact leads to attitudinal change, I draw on data from three longitudinal surveys, which are representative of the adult population living in selected neighbourhoods in S˜ao Paulo, Brazil, adolescents who live in S˜ao Paulo, and the adult population living in Australia. At the heart of the thesis are four empirical papers. The first paper suggests that perceptions of overpolicing and underpolicing undermine legitimacy judgements and mutually reproduce each other over time, with implications for people’s recognition of the ruling power of the law. The second paper focuses on the development of legitimacy judgements among adolescents, and shows that exposure to neighbourhood and police violence may damage the process of healthy legal socialisation. The third paper examines whether police-citizen encounters are teachable moments, with the potential of leading to either positive or negative attitudinal change depending upon the perceived appropriateness of the interaction. The fourth paper addresses the issue of causality – an important gap in the procedural justice literature. Analysis suggests that aggressive police stops (e.g., at gunpoint) have a shortterm effect on perceived police fairness and a long-term effect on perceived overpolicing. Overall, results indicate that reliance on coercive policing strategies have several social costs, including public detachment and alienation from from the law. Adolescents who witness cases of police brutality show diminished development in legitimacy judgements, and the experience or expectation that police officers repeatedly intrude in the lives of people (overpolicing) and fail to ensure public safety (underpolicing) undermine people’s recognition of the state’s monopoly of violence. Yet, there is room for improvement. Perceptions of procedural fairness seem to enhance police trustworthiness and legitimacy. In sum, results indicate that people develop legal attitudes throughout the life course, but police (mis)conduct can lead to attitudinal change over time.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 2022 Thiago R. Oliveira
Library of Congress subject classification: H Social Sciences > H Social Sciences (General)
H Social Sciences > HV Social pathology. Social and public welfare. Criminology
J Political Science > JA Political science (General)
Sets: Departments > Methodology
Supervisor: Jackson, Jonathan

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