This paper discusses the concepts of legitimacy and procedural justice in the context of police leadership. In any given community, residents will have opinions about whether their local police act “legitimately.” These opinions may be based on a particular encounter a resident had with the police, such as a traffic stop, or on larger policy issues. And these opinions often vary from one subgroup of the community to another.
For a police leader, the key challenge is to think about the ways in which the public’s perceptions of legitimacy and procedural justice can affect a police agency’s efforts to achieve its goals. For example, the goals of building community cohesion and trust in the police clearly depend on the extent to which the public believes that police actions are legitimate and procedurally just. And other goals—such as high success rates for investigating crimes and preventing crime—depend on the willingness of the public to cooperate with police, to provide information to the police, and to willingly obey the law, all of which can be affected by the department’s reputation for legitimacy.