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Police legitimacy: perspectives of migrants and non-migrants in Australia

Allegra Clare Schermuly (School of Social Sciences, Monash University, Melbourne, Australia)
Helen Forbes-Mewett (School of Social Sciences, Monash University, Melbourne, Australia)

Journal of Criminological Research, Policy and Practice

ISSN: 2056-3841

Article publication date: 22 February 2019

Issue publication date: 7 March 2019



This paper is drawn from a larger study investigating community perceptions of police legitimacy in the Monash Local Government Area (LGA), in the Australian state of Victoria. Monash had seen declining results in the official government survey in the indicators that assessed police legitimacy over the preceding decade. The purpose of this paper is to explore the perceptions of both migrant and non-migrant participants to understand the role of migrant status in influencing assessments of police legitimacy in Monash LGA.


Through six focus groups, 18 interviews and one e-mail response with 31 individuals, perceptions of Victoria Police among the communities of Monash were collated and analysed.


One of the key findings of the study was that ethnic diversity and/or migrant status of community members were a key factor raised in response to questions about community perceptions of the legitimacy of Victoria Police in Monash LGA. Demographic change had been significant in Monash LGA over the preceding decade, including increasing ethnic diversity in the population and a shift in migration patterns from predominantly European to migrants from East and South Asia. In this paper, the authors suggest that the migrant status of Monash residents was a key factor that both migrant and non-migrant participants thought influenced perceptions of the police. Accordingly, because migrants make up a significant cohort of Australia’s population, we afford due attention to this previously overlooked topic.

Practical implications

The practical implications of this paper are as follows: existing Victoria Police partnerships in the Monash community should be continued and expanded where possible; Victoria Police should also prioritise partnerships with large, new migrant communities, for example, Monash’s Chinese communities; orientation for new migrants to Victoria around the criminal justice system, including Victoria Police, would help new migrants be more aware of their rights and what to expect of law enforcement in their new host country; police should continue to increase representation of ethnic diversity in the force via recruitment of greater numbers of ethnically diverse police members.


Although there have been previous Australian studies on migrant status as a factor in perceptions of criminal justice (see Murphy and Cherney, 2011, 2012; Hong Chui and Kwok-Yin Cheng, 2014), the paper identifies a distinct narrative around migrants’ views of Victoria Police which the authors believe warrant further investigation using an example from a local context. Furthermore, most research in this field has been quantitative. The current study provides additional new insights through an in-depth qualitative approach.



This research was funded by an Australian Government Research Training Scholarship (RTP).


Schermuly, A.C. and Forbes-Mewett, H. (2019), "Police legitimacy: perspectives of migrants and non-migrants in Australia", Journal of Criminological Research, Policy and Practice, Vol. 5 No. 1, pp. 50-63.



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