The Consequences of Being an Object of Suspicion: Potential Pitfalls of Proactive Police Contact

Tom R. Tyler, Jonathan Jackson, Avital Mentovich

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


During the latter half of the 20th century U.S. policing became more professional (Skogan & Frydl 2004) and the rate of violent crime declined dramatically (Blumstein & Wallman ). Yet public trust and confidence in the police increased at best marginally and there has been a large and continuing racial gap in police legitimacy. This article reviews changes in police policy and practice to explore the reasons for this seeming paradox. It is argued that a new model of proactive police stops has increased both the frequency and the range of police contact with people in the community. Such police contact does not inherently undermine public trust in the police, but the style of such contact, which involves the police communicating suspicion of ongoing or future criminal conduct and seeking to prevent it via the threat or use of coercion, has not increased trust. This article examines how such policies developed and why they are problematic. The result of a survey of Americans shows that perceived suspicion damages the social bonds between the police and the community and undermines trust in the police. The article concludes by arguing that police contact need not be inherently negative and contact during which the police use fair procedures can addresses issues of crime and disorder while building trust and confidence.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)602-636
Number of pages35
JournalJournal of Empirical Legal Studies
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 2015
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2015, Cornell Law School and Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • Law


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