Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Trust in the Law

Trust in the Law: Encouraging Public Cooperation with the Police and Courts Through

Tom R. Tyler
Yuen J. Huo
Copyright Date: 2002
Published by: Russell Sage Foundation
Pages: 264
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Trust in the Law
    Book Description:

    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. InTrust 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 Lawexamines 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 Lawshows 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.

    A Volume in the Russell Sage Foundation Series on Trust

    eISBN: 978-1-61044-542-9
    Subjects: Psychology, Law, Sociology

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. About the Authors
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Introduction
    (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 public behavior into compliance with the law and increase the likelihood that members of the public will more willingly accept the directives of police officers and judges, two key points of public contact in our legal system.

    Legal authorities have focused on laws and directives because they may restrict people’s freedom of behavior or provide them with outcomes that are less than what...


    • [PART I Introduction]
      (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, this task of regulation is managed by the police and the courts. The range of issues these authorities deal with can vary from stopping bank robberies to monitoring people’s drinking, drug use, or sexual behavior. In each case, it is the responsibility of particular police officers or judges to issue directives against particular types of behavior and to effectively enforce those orders.

      The arena of acceptable behavior is always a contested one, and people are often defiant...

    • Chapter 1 None
      (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 encounters with members of the public. (For earlier discussions of this issue, see Tyler 2001e.) The ability to bring public behavior into line with their directives is a key indicator of the effectiveness of police officers and judges. If people do not comply with the decisions made by legal authorities, they cannot discharge their social regulatory role and implement the rule of law. When a judge issues a ruling, for example, those affected by the...

    • Chapter 2 Theories and Strategies of Regulation
      (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 in their role. As we have noted, one critical need is to have people comply with their decisions and directives (Tyler 1990). For example, when summoned to control a crowd during a fire, the police may direct people to move away from the burning building. For the police officers to be effective in their role, all the people surrounding the building need to follow the order and move away. Similarly, a judge seeking...

    • Chapter 3 The California Study of Personal Experiences with the Police and the Courts
      (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 in 1998 in which we interviewed 1,656 residents of two California cities—Oakland and Los Angeles. (For details about the design of this study, see Huo and Tyler 2000.) These individuals were chosen because they indicated during the interviewer’s initial telephone contact that they had had at least one recent personal experience with the legal authorities in their community.

      Each respondent was interviewed about his or her most recent personal experience with a police...


    • Chapter 4 Procedural Justice and Decision Acceptance
      (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 of coming to those decisions. To understand the importance of procedural justice, we need to consider whether people are in fact motivated by ethical judgments about what is right and wrong when those judgments suggest that they behave in ways that depart from their self-interest.

      For justice to be a real factor in decision acceptance, people’s behavior must be shaped by their judgments about what is right or wrong, just or unjust, apart from their judgments about what is personally...

    • Chapter 5 Motive-Based Trust and Decision Acceptance
      (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 motives or character refers to his or her internal, unobservable characteristics that are inferred from his or her observable actions. Psychologists have long recognized that one of our central goals in dealing with another person, regardless of whether that person is in a position of authority, is making inferences about the motivations shaping his or her actions. Our focus in this chapter on people’s inferences about the trustworthiness of other people’s motives flows from that recognition.


    • Chapter 6 The Overall Influence of Social Motives on Decision Acceptance
      (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 and satisfaction with the decision maker. Both procedural justice and motive-based trust reflect the influence of factors that are not directly linked to the favorability, fairness, predictability, or expectedness of the outcomes of people’s interactions with legal authorities.

      We now turn our attention to the relationship between procedural justice and motive-based trust. When we consider these two social motives jointly, our concern is with determining whether each social motive makes a unique contribution to explaining decision acceptance. If each...


    • [PART III Introduction]
      (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 the factors that shape people’s willingness to accept decisions within the context of their own personal encounters with police officers and judges. We recognize, however, that such personal experiences occur within a broader framework.

      That framework encompasses two types of societal orientations: people’s general views about the legitimacy of legal authorities and institutions, and people’s connections to others in their communities and to American society. In our study these connections reflect the degree to...

    • Chapter 7 Societal Orientations: Legitimacy and Connections with Society
      (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 they feel a responsibility to support legal authorities and defer to their decisions. The argument for the importance of legitimacy is linked to the belief that people’s feelings of personal responsibility and obligation shape their law-related behavior.

      Tyler (1990) has directly addressed this issue and shown that legitimacy shapes everyday compliance with the law. He found that those who view legal authorities as more legitimate, as indexed by the level of general institutional trust in those authorities...

    • Chapter 8 Societal Orientations and Reactions to Personal Experiences with Legal Authorities
      (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 of legal authorities—their fairness and their motives—influences people’s willingness to defer voluntarily to their decisions and directives. In particular, people are more willing to accept decisions that are arrived at through processes they understand to be fair and that are made by authorities whom they trust.

      We now want to examine the additional influence, if any, of general societal orientations on what happens during people’s personal experiences with legal authorities. We expect that not everyone approaches a...

    • Chapter 9 Generalizing from Personal Experiences to Societal Orientations
      (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 situation when they have a personal experience with legal authorities, and that decision may have an impact on their general views about the law, the legal authorities, and society. It is to this generalization process that we now turn our attention.

      The findings already outlined show that people’s willingness to defer to police officers and judges in personal encounters is influenced by the behavior of those authorities. To the degree that people perceive the...


    • [PART IV Introduction]
      (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 numbers of members of three important groups, African Americans, Hispanics, and whites. We did so because past studies of the American public provide clear evidence that there have long been major ethnic group differences in people’s experiences with and attitudes toward the law and legal authorities. In fact, race-ethnicity has always been considered one of the central dimensions defining the relationship between the residents of various communities and legal authorities.

      When legal...

    • Chapter 10 Ethnicity and Experiences with Legal Authorities
      (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). As a recent review concluded: “The evidence is indisputable that, compared to general population distributions, persons of color are disproportionately represented among those subjected to police use of force, where the discharge of a firearm is involved” (Locke 1995, 139). In an analysis of police encounters with members of the public in several American cities, Worden (1995) found that African Americans are more likely to be subjected to “improper force,” even after controls are made for...

    • Chapter 11 Variations in the Psychology of Experience
      (pp. 153-164)

      What role do procedural justice and motive-based trust play in gaining decision acceptance from individuals of different ethnicity?

      To address this question, we used regression analyses in which the dependent variable was a combined index of decision acceptance and satisfaction with the decision maker. We then used procedural justice or motive-based trust to predict that dependent variable, controlling for the influence of outcome favorability and fairness. The results indicate that both procedural justice and motive-based trust shape acceptance and satisfaction, and that both have approximately the same influence. This is true among all three ethnic groups (see table 11.1). The...

    • Chapter 12 Group Boundaries and Subgroup Identification
      (pp. 165-174)

      In 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 is outside of one’s ethnic group. The second is the role of loyalty to one’s ethnic subgroup in shaping reactions to legal authorities.¹

      When people deal with particular legal authorities, one aspect of the interaction is whether they view the authority as a member of their own group. It has been suggested that minorities have different experiences when they involve minority legal authorities. This is one of many arguments underlying calls...


    • [PART V Introduction]
      (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 might gain cooperation and consent for their decisions within the context of those interactions. We find that people are responsive to two social aspects of their experience with legal authorities—their feelings about the procedural justice of their experience and their trust in the motives of those authorities. Further, people’s perceptions of justice and trust in the context of a personal encounter are linked to two process-based issues: the quality of the decision making and how well they are...

    • Chapter 13 General Views About the Law and the Legal System
      (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 police performance in fighting crime, dominate the overall evaluations of legal institutions that are measured in public opinion polls. If true, this has important implications for the political viability of a process-based strategy. It suggests that the police and the courts face strong public opposition to the implementation of a fairness-based model which might be...

    • Chapter 14 Implications for Policing
      (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, police officers are the legal authority with whom people most frequently interact in their everyday lives. Further, many of the problems that have recently dominated discussion about the relationship between the public and legal authorities have been policing problems. Although the courts also exercise authority over the public, the police are especially likely to control people through the threat or application of force and are a natural focus of public hostility and...

    • Chapter 15 Process-Based Regulation
      (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 that legal authorities can engage in to enhance the willingness of the public to support and accept their decisions.

      We have distinguished between two possible strategies for effective regulation. The deterrence strategy dominates current thinking about how to bring people’s behavior into line with the law and the directives of legal authorities. Deterrence relies on gaining compliance through the power of legal authorities to sanction people. In implementing this approach, police officers and judges use the...

    • Chapter 16 Psychological Jurisprudence
      (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 effort to build our system of law and regulation on an accurate model of the psychology of the person. Psychological jurisprudence has many aspects (see Tyler and Darley 2000), but our comments here focus on issues of human motivation.¹

      Psychological jurisprudence provides a distinctly empirical, rather than normative, perspective on the problems presented by the law. According to this view, our conception of the person should be based on empirical research about human motivation, such as the...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 217-226)
  12. References
    (pp. 227-240)
  13. Index
    (pp. 241-248)