Legitimacy and Deterrence Effects in Counterterrorism Policing: A Study of Muslim Americans


  • The research reported was funded by the Law and Social Science Program of the National Science Foundation (NSF0751874). Stephen Schulhofer wishes to acknowledge the additional research support of the Filomen D'Agostino and Max E. Greenberg Research Fund at New York University School of Law and the excellent research assistance of Andrea Lofgren. We thank Lisa Currie, Robb Magaw, Chris Muller, and Sarah Sayeed for help with the study.

Please address correspondence to Tom R. Tyler, Department of Psychology, New York University, New York, NY 10003; e-mail: tom.tyler@nyu.edu.


This study considers the circumstances under which members of the Muslim American community voluntarily cooperate with police efforts to combat terrorism. Cooperation is defined to include both a general receptivity toward helping the police in antiterror work and the specific willingness to alert police to terror-related risks in a community. We compare two perspectives on why people cooperate with law enforcement, both developed with reference to general policing, in the context of antiterror policing and specifically among members of the Muslim American community. The first is instrumental. It suggests that people cooperate because they see tangible benefits that outweigh any costs. The second perspective is normative. It posits that people respond to their belief that police are a legitimate authority. On this view we link legitimacy to the fairness and procedural justice of police behavior. Data from a study involving interviews with Muslim Americans in New York City between March and June 2009 strongly support the normative model by finding that the procedural justice of police activities is the primary factor shaping legitimacy and cooperation with the police.