Public trust in police: Collective efficacy and the importance of place

Research has consistently identified characteristics of local areas as important predictors of public trust in the police. Across multiple contexts, neighbourhood composition, crime rates, levels of disorder, and collective efficacy have all been associated with expectations and evaluations of police. In the UK, “informal social controls under social norms of trust” – i.e. collective efficacy (Sampson 2009) – has been shown to be of particular importance, at both the level of individual perception and of neighbourhood characteristic. Using results from a number of broadly exploratory studies, in this paper I consider these issues from two novel perspectives. First, neighbourhood diversity, something often thought antithetical to social cohesion and shared norms of conduct, is considered as another factor that might shape trust in the police. Second, I investigate the extent to which collective efficacy shapes wider orientations toward police in ways that may be mediated by, but also go beyond, trust. The importance of collective efficacy is underlined in all these studies – yet the ways in which it might shape people’s relations with police are complex, and even contradictory.