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Youth, Police Legitimacy and Informal Contact


This paper explores the under-researched topic of young people’s attitudes towards police in two studies using structural equation modelling. The first study examines the influence of police legitimacy on the willingness of young people to assist police. The second study examines the impact of informal contact with police during a community policing project on young people’s willingness to assist police. Findings show that young people who view police as legitimate are more willing to assist police. Participation in the community policing project had a significant and positive influence on young people’s willingness to assist police independent of young people’s attitudes about police legitimacy.

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Fig. 2


  1. In the post-YCA survey in 2006, the ‘prior contact’ question was altered to exclude contact with police during the YCA: “Other than police contact as part of YCA activities, was the most recent experience you have had with a police officer…..?” The scale was unchanged.


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The author wishes to acknowledge the support of the Australian Research Council Grant number LP0346987.

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Correspondence to Lyn Hinds.

Appendix 1

Appendix 1

This Appendix details measures used in the analyses in this paper. It also details the original scale formats and the recoding of data if applicable (reverse scoring indicated with the letter ‘r’). Refer to the main text for reliability coefficients of scales, mean scores and standard deviations for scales.

Concern About Crime

Young people’s perceptions of their safety and security were measured using an eight-item ‘concerned about being a victim’ scale that asked: “In your everyday life how concerned are you about being the victim of …..”. Eight crime types were specified: (i) physical assault, (ii) sexual assault, (iii) housebreaking, (iv) fraud or credit card theft, (v) motor vehicle theft, (vi) internet-based crime, (vii) drug/alcohol related violence, and (viii) graffiti or vandalism. Responses were measured on a 1 = not at all concerned to 4 = very concerned scale.

Procedural justice

A four-item procedural justice scale was created to measure young people’s perceptions of the fairness of police decision-making, measured on a 1 = strongly disagree to 5 = strongly agree scale. Youth who agreed with the following statements view police as using procedural justice:

  • Police treat young people differently from the way they treat adults (r);

  • It depends what mood a police officer is in whether they tell you off or not (r);

  • Police use unfair methods to get information (r); and

  • If it’s your word against a police officer’s: they will always win (r).

Police Legitimacy

A four-item legitimacy scale was designed to measure the extent to which police are seen to have legitimate authority; measured on a range of 1 = strongly disagree to 5 = strongly agree. Young people who agreed with the statements viewed police authority as legitimate. The four items were:

  • I have confidence in police;

  • Everyone should always follow the directions of police officers even if they go against what they think is right;

  • I have great respect for police

  • Police abuse their power (r).

Police Performance

Police performance assessed how well youth thought police do seven jobs, measured on a 1 = ‘not at all well’ to 5 = ‘very well’ scale: (i) telling children about road safety, (ii) catching people who take drugs, (iii) keeping an eye on gangs of young people, (iv) dealing with children who break the law, (v) directing traffic, (vi) helping to run things like youth clubs, and (vii) stopping people who break the speed limit.

Distributive Justice

Distributive justice focuses on the fairness of an allocation or distribution of outcomes. We measured distributive fairness using two questions (measured on a 1 = strongly disagree to 5 = strongly agree scale):

  • The scruffier you look the more likely the police are to nick you (r); and

  • Police treat you differently depending on where you live (r).

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Hinds, L. Youth, Police Legitimacy and Informal Contact. J Police Crim Psych 24, 10–21 (2009).

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  • Police legitimacy
  • Juvenile justice
  • Police-youth relationships
  • Community policing