Leiden Law Blog

In the police we trust?

In the police we trust?

Effective policing requires citizen cooperation. One means of improving citizen cooperation with the police is to increase citizens’ perceptions of legitimacy and trustworthiness. Violence against public officials on the one hand and complaints about perceived ethnic profiling by the Dutch police in the media on the other hand fuel the idea of a breakdown in trust in policing in current society. Although there are heated methodological discussions on the scope of the concept of trust, in this blog with trust we refer to the people’s perception that police officers behave like professional officers, which includes performing their duties fairly, impartially and efficiently. Just as crime is usually thought to be on the rise, trust in public institutions such as the police is commonly said to be declining or eroding. Is this indeed the case?

Subsequent waves of the European Social Survey (ESS) can shed some light on the issue. The ESS survey asks if citizens have come into contact with the police and how they would judge this contact. These surveys show that considering those who have had police contact, people in the Netherlands tend to value such contact most positively in terms of police trustworthiness. Like in Scandinavian countries, a relatively high number of people coming into contact with the police goes together with a relatively mild judgement of their trustworthiness. When measuring to what extent the police is impartial, the Netherlands also scores relatively high. Overall, it is fair to say that recent data contradicts a low level of trust in the police as is suggested by the media and NGOs. In a similar fashion, a comparison over time contradicts a decline during the last decade. As Statistics Netherlands concluded recently, trust in the police and the legal system has risen over the period 2002-2010. In times of recession this is not what many people would expect.

All this data, however, stems from surveys among the general public. We could assume that there are strong differences across neighbourhoods and that in multi-ethnic areas citizens might be more critical towards the police. A recent survey on perceptions of the police within neighbourhoods by Statistics Netherlands revealed that in general many citizens are not highly positive about how the police offer protection in the neighbourhood and react adequately to local problems. But scores are higher in urbanized areas, which are also areas with the highest proportion of people with a migrant background. Another assumption could be that people with a migrant background are more negative about the police than native Dutch citizens. Research with respect to ethnic minority perceptions of the Dutch police did find mixed results, but never alarmingly higher levels of distrust. Some studies even showed the opposite.

One potential explanation for these discrepancies is that the media tend to report on a small but highly critical segment of the population, including people who are continuously bothered by the police with good reason. Increasingly, the police identify groups of high risk offenders and concentrate their proactive efforts on those people, and on the geographical areas where they are active. Technology, preventive policies and expanded investigative and control powers appear to help them to do so in a more efficient way than before. Declining crime rates are seen as proof. Unfortunately, this efficiency also comes at a price. Law abiding citizens from the same groups who lead much of their lives in the same areas seem to bear the brunt. They might indeed show declining levels of trust in the police, even in times where  there is no general decline among the public as a whole. Although from a police point of view these side effects might not be seen as a pressing issue, they can deeply impact upon people’s lives and the willingness of these citizens to cooperate with the police and comply with the law in the future. Efficiency is important, but so is trust, perhaps even more so on the long haul.


Posted by Joanne on July 22, 2014 at 11:43

Thanks for your reaction, which is an illustration I would say of the importance of trust. The use of violence is also an important aspect, but not something we touch upon in this blog, neither do we comment on work of others here. In our articles we have more room to show where we base our conclusions on.

Tom van E
Posted by Tom van E on July 21, 2014 at 17:15

I’m sorry but this blog is skewed and certainly not objective…

You forgot to mention that the violence of police versus it’s citizens is higher in the Netherlands then in the surrounding countries. The police kills relatively a lot of citizens, with firearms, because the use of non-lethal weapons isn’t regulated. This is the fault of your college Jaap Timmer. He keeps defending the current rules, that he wrote himself, judges himself when asked by justitie and may go on TV do defend the rules he wrote, in a way that it looks that he has nothing to do with it. Jaap Timmer is a murder by my opinion…

That man is nothing more than a hand puppet for the police and a disgrace of academic world, because his idea’s are old fashioned and have resulted in many unnecessary death citizens…

The worst part is the police force gets away with it. Partially by the nice subjective work of Jaap Timmer and because of pure arrogance by the justice department and the police force. This has brought my trust for the police down to 0%. I’ve seen people I know on “opsporing verzocht”, but I refuse to tip or cooperate with a police force that works with 2 measures…. And I know many more people that did the same…

For example the Dutch police has a violence monopoly, but they don’t do a yearly drugs test on armed officers because it’s a invasion of their privacy, but the police can force drugs tests on citizens… Which is proper b*llsh*t, because armed police officers are an unique part in the Dutch workforce, so we can ask unique standards to guarantee the quality we may expect from such a group.

Even in the light of the murder of Millie Boelen by a long-time drugs using armed police officer, the directives haven’t been changed, because with a drugs test the police can’t meet their recruiting quota’s. It’s still possible that regular drugs users walk on the street with a firearm. There is no control what so ever… Only when colleagues report strange behaviour. It’s a disgrace…

Can you hear the arrogance dripping? Justice and the Police need to learn that you earn respect, not command it…

I hope that you will inform yourselves better for next blogs and use my information in the future to produce less skewed work.

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