Police legitimacy, trustworthiness, and associations with intimate partner violence

Lisa Fedina (School of Social Work, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA)
Bethany L. Backes (Austin Steve Hicks School of Social Work, University of Texas, Austin, Texas, USA)
Hyun-Jin Jun (School of Social Work, University of Maryland Baltimore, Baltimore, Maryland, USA)
Jordan DeVylder (Graduate School of Social Service, Fordham University, New York, New York, USA)
Richard P. Barth (School of Social Work, University of Maryland Baltimore, Baltimore, Maryland, USA)

Policing: An International Journal

ISSN: 1363-951X

Publication date: 10 October 2019



The purpose of this paper is to understand the relationship among police legitimacy/trust and experiences of intimate partner violence (IPV), including victims’ decisions to report IPV to police and police responses to IPV.


Data were drawn from the 2017 Survey of Police–Public Encounters II – a cross-sectional, general population survey of adults from New York City and Baltimore (n=1,000). Regression analyses were used to examine associations among police legitimacy/trust, IPV exposure, police reporting of IPV, and perceived police responses to IPV and interaction effects.


Higher levels of IPV exposure were significantly associated with lower levels of police legitimacy/trust; however, this relationship was stronger among African–American participants than non-African–American participants. Higher levels of police legitimacy/trust were significantly associated with more positive police responses to IPV and this relationship was stronger among heterosexual participants than sexual minority participants.

Research limitations/implications

Future research should examine prospective relationships to understand causal mechanisms linking individual perceptions of police legitimacy/trust, experiences with IPV and victims’ interactions with police.

Practical implications

Low levels of legitimacy/trust between police and citizens may result, in part, if police are engaged in negative or inadequate responses to reports of IPV. Police–social work partnerships can enhance effective police responses to IPV, particularly to racial/ethnic and sexual minority individuals.


This study provides empirical evidence linking police legitimacy/trust to the experiences of IPV and perceived police responses to reports of IPV, including important group differences among victims based on race/ethnicity and sexual orientation.



This work was supported by internal funding from the University of Maryland School of Social Work, through the Competitive and Innovative Research (CIR) Award to DeVylder, Post-Doctoral Fellowship to Jun and Graduate Research Assistantship to Fedina.

This paper forms part of a special section on “Social Police Work and Police Social Work: 100 years after August Vollmer's speech”.


Fedina, L., Backes, B.L., Jun, H.-J., DeVylder, J. and Barth, R.P. (2019), "Police legitimacy, trustworthiness, and associations with intimate partner violence", Policing: An International Journal, Vol. 42 No. 5, pp. 901-916. https://doi.org/10.1108/PIJPSM-04-2019-0046

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