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Procedural justice and police legitimacy: a systematic review of the research evidence

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Journal of Experimental Criminology

Published online on



We undertook a systematic review and meta-analysis to synthesize the published and unpublished empirical evidence on the impact of police-led interventions that use procedurally just dialogue focused on improving citizen perceptions of police legitimacy.


The systematic search included any public police intervention where there was a statement that the intervention involved police dialogue with citizens that either was aimed explicitly at improving police legitimacy, or used at least one core ingredient of procedural justice dialogue: police encouraging citizen participation, remaining neutral in their decision making, conveying trustworthy motives, or demonstrating dignity and respect throughout interactions. The studies included in our meta-analyses also had to include at least one direct outcome that measured legitimacy or procedural justice, or one outcome that is common in the legitimacy extant literature: citizen compliance, cooperation, confidence or satisfaction with police. We conducted separate meta-analyses, using random effects models, for each outcome.


For every single one of our outcome measures, the effect of legitimacy policing was in a positive direction, and, for all but the legitimacy outcome, statistically significant. Notwithstanding the variability in the mode in which legitimacy policing is delivered (i.e., the study intervention) and the complexities around measurement of legitimacy outcomes, our review shows that the dialogue component of front-line police-led interventions is an important vehicle for promoting citizen satisfaction, confidence, compliance and cooperation with the police, and for enhancing perceptions of procedural justice.


In practical terms, our research shows the benefits of police using dialogue that adopts at least one of the principles of procedural justice as a component part of any type of police intervention, whether as part of routine police activity or as part of a defined police crime control program. Our review provides evidence that legitimacy policing is an important precursor for improving the capacity of policing to prevent and control crime.