To read this content please select one of the options below:

Research on police legitimacy: the state of the art

Robert E. Worden (John F. Finn Institute for Public Safety, Albany, New York, USA) (University at Albany, SUNY, Albany, New York, USA)
Sarah J. McLean (John F. Finn Institute for Public Safety, Albany, New York, USA)

Policing: An International Journal

ISSN: 1363-951X

Article publication date: 21 August 2017




The purpose of this paper is to review the “state of the art” in research on police legitimacy. The authors consider two bodies of theory and empirical research on police legitimacy: one rooted in social psychology and concerned with individual attitudes, and the other based on organizational institutionalism. The authors contrast the theories, discuss the methods with which propositions have been examined, and take stock of the empirical evidence. The authors then turn to a direct comparison of the theories and their predictions.


Critical review and comparison of two bodies of literature.


Police legitimacy is a phenomenon that can be properly understood only when it is addressed at both individual and organizational levels. A large body of social psychological research on police legitimacy has been conducted at the individual level, though it has dwelled mainly on attitudes, and the empirical evidence on the relationships of attitudes to behavior is weak. A much smaller body of research on organizational legitimacy in policing has accumulated, and it appears to have promise for advancing our understanding of police legitimacy.


The understanding of police legitimacy can be deepened by the juxtaposition of these two bodies of theory and research.



Worden, R.E. and McLean, S.J. (2017), "Research on police legitimacy: the state of the art", Policing: An International Journal, Vol. 40 No. 3, pp. 480-513.



Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2017, Emerald Publishing Limited

Related articles