Shaping Citizen Perceptions of Police Legitimacy: A Randomized Field Trial of Procedural Justice


  • Additional supporting information can be found in the listing for this article in the Wiley Online Library at

  • The research reported in this article was funded, in its entirety, by the Australian Research Council (ARC) Centre of Excellence in Policing and Security (CEPS). The authors thank the team of researchers from the University of Queensland (Institute for Social Science Research) and Griffith University who participated in a variety of ways to bring this trial to fruition. The partnership between the research team and the Queensland Police Service is particularly acknowledged. The views expressed in this material are those of the authors and are not those of the Queensland Police Service. The responsibility for any errors of omission or commission remains with the authors. The Queensland Police Service expressly disclaims any liability for any damage resulting from the use of the material contained in this publication and will not be responsible for any loss, howsoever arising, from use or reliance on this material.

Direct correspondence to Lorraine Mazerolle, Institute for Social Science Research (ISSR), University of Queensland, St Lucia Campus, Brisbane, Australia 4072 (e-mail:


Exploring the relationship between procedural justice and citizen perceptions of police is a well-trodden pathway. Studies show that when citizens perceive the police acting in a procedurally just manner—by treating people with dignity and respect, and by being fair and neutral in their actions—they view the police as legitimate and are more likely to comply with directives and cooperate with police. Our article examines both the direct and the indirect outcomes of procedural justice policing, tested under randomized field trial conditions. We assess whether police can enhance perceptions of legitimacy during a short, police-initiated and procedurally just traffic encounter and how this single encounter shapes general views of police. Our results show significant differences between the control and experimental conditions: Procedurally just traffic encounters with police (experimental condition) shape citizen views about the actual encounter directly and general orientations toward the police relative to business-as-usual traffic stops in the control group. The theorized model is supported by our research, demonstrating that the police have much to gain from acting fairly during even short encounters with citizens.