Contact and confidence: revisiting the impact of public encounters with the police

Published: December 2009

Public confidence in policing has become an important issue in the UK. The police rely on legitimacy and public support, and initiatives to improve levels of confidence are currently underway. The point of contact between citizens and officers is vital in any such endeavour. But how are encounters judged and how important for public confidence are assessments of the quality of contacts? We draw upon data from the 2005/2006 Metropolitan Police Public Attitudes Survey to answer these questions. We test Skogan’s (2006) finding that personal contact has a largely negative impact on confidence; we demonstrate that unsatisfactory contacts are indeed associated with less favourable opinions about police effectiveness, fairness and engagement with the community. Yet consistent with the procedural justice model we also show that positively received contacts can improve perceptions of fairness and community engagement. Moreover, seeing regular police patrols and feeling informed about police activities are associated with higher opinions of effectiveness and community engagement. We conclude with some more positive thoughts on the ability of the police to improve the quality of contacts and, perhaps, public confidence.

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Research Themes

General Resources

Gender, Crime and Criminal Justice

Criminal Justice Process and Institutions