These confidence gaps come with consequences. Effective policing depends on police and their communities working together in a symbiotic relationship based on mutual respect and trust. The police are best able to serve and protect their communities when the residents freely cooperate with the police, for instance when residents are willing to report a crime they witness.
However, individuals who have less favorable opinions of the police are less likely to report a crime. For instance, while 78% of white Americans say they would “definitely” report a violent crime they witnessed, considerably fewer African Americans (54%) and Hispanics (57%) feel as confident. Fewer than half of African American men with annual incomes less than $30,000 a year would “definitely” report a crime.
Young Americans are also less likely to say they would report a violent crime if they saw one compared to seniors (87% vs. 53%). In addition, households making less than $30,000 a year (62%) and high school graduates (68%) are considerably less likely than those making over $60,000 a year (79%) or college graduates (81%) to be confident they would report a violent crime they witnessed.
When residents feel the justice system is fair and impartial, they have confidence in the police. Such confidence encourages cooperation with the police, which is necessary to reduce crime.14 Moreover, when the police have legitimacy, the law has legitimacy, which encourages compliance with the law. Studies have shown that citizens are more likely to obey the law when the police have legitimacy.15
14 See Linquiin Cao, James Frank, and Francis T. Cullen, “Race, Community Context and Confidence in the Police.” American Journal of Police 15 (1996): 3-22. Tom Tyler, and Jeffrey Fagan, “Legitimacy and Cooperation: Why Do People Help the Police Fight Crime in Their Communities?” Ohio State Journal of Criminal Law 6 (2008): 231-275; Andrew V. Papachristos, Tracey L. Meares, and Jeffrey Fagan, “Why Do Criminals Obey the Law? The Influence of Legitimacy and Social Networks on Active Gun Offenders,” Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology 102 No. 2 (2009): 397-440; Tom R. Tyler, “The Role of Perceived Injustice in Defendants’ Evaluations of Their Courtroom Experience,” Law & Society Review 18 (1984): 51-74; Tom Tyler, Why People Obey the Law (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2006); Jonathan Blanks, “How Pretextual Stops Undermine Police Legitimacy,” Case W. Res. L. Review 66 (2016): 931-946.
15 Andrew V. Papachristos, Tracey L. Meares, and Jeffrey Fagan, “Why Do Criminals Obey the Law? The Influence of Legitimacy and Social Networks on Active Gun Offenders,” Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology 102, no. 2 (2009): 397-440.