Journal of Experimental Criminology

, Volume 15, Issue 1, pp 87–101 | Cite as

Police vehicles as symbols of legitimacy

  • Rylan SimpsonEmail author



To experimentally evaluate the effects of police vehicle types and esthetics on participants’ perceptions of police officers.


Using participant data (N = 307) from the Police Officer Perception Project (Simpson 2017), I experimentally assess the effects of police vehicles on perceptions of police officers. Specifically, I evaluate the impact of presenting officers in marked police vehicles (black and white versus white and blue), unmarked police vehicles, and unrelated (or civilian) police vehicles on perceptions of them as aggressive, approachable, friendly, respectful, and accountable.


Police officers are perceived differently when occupying different types and colors of police vehicles. For example, officers are generally perceived more favorably when occupying marked police vehicles than when occupying non-marked police vehicles. When occupying marked police vehicles, officers are generally perceived more favorably when such vehicles have a black and white color scheme than a white and blue color scheme.


Police vehicle types and esthetics impact perceptions of police officers in significant and meaningful ways. Like uniforms, police vehicles can be important symbols of legitimacy which exude presence and nonverbally communicate philosophies and intentions to the public. Police departments may tailor the perceived intentions of their motorized patrols by strategically manipulating the appearance of their vehicles.


Experimental criminology Legitimacy Motorized patrol Perceptions of police Police cars Policing Procedural justice Vehicles 



The author would like to thank John Hipp and Michael Gottfredson for their feedback on this manuscript; Tam Vu for his help running participants for this project; and David Maggard Jr., Mike Hamel, Julia Engen, Tim Knight, and the many officers and support staff from the Irvine and Newport Beach Police Departments for sharing their time and equipment in order to make this project possible. The author would also like to thank the editorial team and anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments regarding this manuscript.

Compliance with ethical standards

Ethical approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Conflict of interest

The author declares that he has no conflict of interest.

Supplementary material

11292_2018_9343_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (173 kb)
ESM 1 (PDF 173 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Criminology, Law and SocietyUniversity of California, IrvineIrvineUSA

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