From coercion to consent: Social identity, legitimacy and a process model of police procedural justice

Research Institution / Organisation

University of Keele

In Collaboration With

Initially in partnership with West Midlands Police, with potential to develop to West Yorkshire and Staffordshire Police.

Principal Researcher

Professor Clifford Stott

Level of Research

Professional / Work-based

Project Start Date

September 2018

Research Context

​The concept of legitimacy lies at the heart of democratic policing, in that in a democratic society police must seek and maintain public support by acting impartially, using coercion proportionately and persuading the citizenry that they are an institution that is entitled to be obeyed. But, there are multiple highly marginalised communities for whom perceptions of police illegitimacy, non-compliance, conflict, criminality and experiences of police coercion are the norm.

With its central focus on fairness, legitimacy, identification between police and public, and normative compliance, Procedural Justice Theory (PJT) is a useful model to understand how to improve police community relations. But, there are several aspects of the theory that limit its policy relevance as these pertain to policing marginalised groups with whom police have most contact.

This project will address these limitations by developing two parallel programmes of research involving research ethnography and a virtual reality, experimental programme. Both experimental and ethnographic strands will explore the following questions:

  1. what specific role(s) does ‘social identity’ play in perceptions of procedural fairness?
  2. What contextual factors shape people’s perceptions of the fairness of police activity and how do these change through and within interaction?
  3. Are marginalized/excluded groups attuned to the fairness of police behaviour in different ways and how do the dynamics of interaction with police officers shape or undermine this marginalisation?
  4. What effect does the experience of police procedural (in)justice have on the subsequent behaviour of the individuals concerned?


By addressing these questions the project will advance theoretical understanding of the processes through which the police can move away from coercion toward a consent-based approach among these highly marginalised and ‘difficult to reach’ groups; theoretical knowledge that will provide applied benefit for a range of different stakeholders.

Research Methodology

​We will use ethnographic methods to obtain direct semi-structured observational data of a series of police interactions with marginalised groups across a range of contexts.
We will conduct interviews with people involved in those encounters (police, ‘citizen’, observer) to interpret how encounters were experienced and what drove them.
When arrests (or other forms of criminal justice action) take place, we will develop longitudinal data by tracking those individuals through the criminal justice processes undertaking a further series of interviews and questionnaires with various stakeholders involved in that process.
We will also have access to statistical data concerning the nature and context of the encounters (e.g. stop and search statistics).

Second, we will translate a series of police citizen encounters into a fully immersive Virtual Reality (VR) programme that participants will experience via headsets to engineer a series of experimental studies.

Interim reports and publications

​Not available

Date due for completion

August 2021
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