Media Law Prof Blog

Editor: Christine A. Corcos
Louisiana State Univ.

Monday, October 3, 2011

The Media's Effect on the Public's Trust in the Police

Katrin Hohl, London School of Economics, Methodology Institute, has published The Role of the Mass Media in Public Trust in the Police, in Just Authority? Public Trust and Police Legitimacy (J. Jackson, B. Bradford, E. Stanko and K. Hohl, Routledge, Forthcoming). Here is the abstract.

This study tests the effect of the media, in particular the press, on public opinions of and trust in the police. It does so within the theoretical framework of procedural justice theory adapted to the British context. Procedural justice theory postulates that cooperation and compliance with the police, the courts and the law flow from the perception that they are legitimate and trustworthy authorities. Legitimacy and trust, in turn, are largely based on perceptions of procedural fairness – believing that the police or the courts treat one with fairness and respect, and that one’s views are heard and taken into account (Tyler and Huo 2002). 

The empirically study combines a large-scale content analysis of reporting on policing in five major British newspapers between April 2007 and March 2010 with population representative survey data on public trust fielded continuously over the same three-year period. The study finds little evidence for an effect of the staple of media reporting on policing – ongoing crime investigations – on public trust in the police. Despite the great variability in media reporting over the three-year period – with some high profile events and stretches of both high and low intensity of reporting on policing – public confidence in the police remained very stable. Reporting on police misconduct, how the police treat members of the public in direct encounters and acts of police community engagement have a small effect on public confidence. These findings suggests public trust is rooted in perceptions and beliefs about procedural fairness and police community engagement more than in judgements of police effectiveness and competence in dealing with crime.

Download the essay from SSRN at the link.

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