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Enhancing Police Legitimacy by Promoting Safety Culture

The Politics of Policing: Between Force and Legitimacy

ISBN: 978-1-78635-030-5, eISBN: 978-1-78635-029-9

Publication date: 10 June 2016



Drawing from literature on organizations that function efficiently and effectively while maintaining low levels of errors and occupational injuries and deaths, we argue that police departments can enhance their legitimacy by adopting the practices found in such organizations because doing so can reduce the frequency of unnecessary force against citizens and lower officer injury rates.


To support our argument, we review literatures on the causes and avoidance of errors in organizations, identify how well-run organizations in high-risk environments are able to operate safely, and describe how police departments can adopt similar practices as a mechanism to enhance officer safety and lower the rate at which officers use force against citizens.


By adopting the practices of successful organizations in other fields, police departments and their officers can promote and enhance their safety while simultaneously reducing their use of force against citizens. By doing so, police can raise the level of legitimacy they hold in the eyes of the American public, which has arguably decreased in the wake of recent events involving police gunfire.


Our ideas contribute to the policing literature by: (1) highlighting a preexisting body of literature and outlining its application to police organizations and (2) detailing how both the police and the public can benefit from improved police practices.




This project was supported by Grant Number 2010-DB-BX-K163 awarded by the Bureau of Justice Assistance. The Bureau of Justice Assistance is a component of the Office of Justice Programs, which also includes the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the National Institute of Justice, the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, the SMART Office, and the Office for Victims and Crime. Points of view or opinions in this document are those of the authors and do not represent the official position or policies of the US Department of Justice. Portions of this chapter were included in Professor Klinger’s written testimony presented to the U.S. Civil Rights Commission prior to his appearance before the Commission in April of 2015.


Pickering, J.C. and Klinger, D.A. (2016), "Enhancing Police Legitimacy by Promoting Safety Culture", The Politics of Policing: Between Force and Legitimacy (Sociology of Crime, Law and Deviance, Vol. 21), Emerald Group Publishing Limited, Bingley, pp. 21-39.



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