The Overlooked Perspective of Police Trust in the Public: Measurement and Effects on Police Job Behaviors

Published date01 June 2020
Date01 June 2020
Subject MatterArticles
/tmp/tmp-17FFfvbjFzx7Yl/input 851850CJPXXX10.1177/0887403419851850Criminal Justice Policy ReviewMourtgos et al.
Criminal Justice Policy Review
2020, Vol. 31(5) 639 –672
The Overlooked Perspective
© The Author(s) 2019
Article reuse guidelines:
of Police Trust in the Public:
DOI: 10.1177/0887403419851850
Measurement and Effects
on Police Job Behaviors
Scott M. Mourtgos1 , Roger C. Mayer2,
Richard A. Wise3, and Holly O’Rourke4
Many studies have looked at the public’s trust in the police, but very few have
examined police trust in the public. Based on Mayer, Davis, and Schoorman’s model
of trust, we conducted two studies. The first study created scales measuring the
antecedents of trust and assessed police trust in the public based on a survey of
990 police officers from across the United States. The second study used the trust
measures developed in the first study, as well as supervisors’ evaluations and archival
performance data, in a study of the job performance of 135 police officers. We found
that officers who had greater trust in the public engaged in more proactive policing
and made more arrests. We discuss the implications of these findings, including what
they mean for police officers and the communities they serve.
trust, police, de-policing, public
In recent years, there have been a number of high profile, tragic incidents involving the
police and the public that have garnered national attention, such as the shooting of
Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and the death of Freddie Gray while in police
custody in Baltimore, Maryland. These incidents have severely strained police–public
1University of Utah, Salt Lake City, UT, USA
2North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC, USA
3University of North Dakota, Grand Forks, ND, USA
4Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ, USA
Corresponding Author:
Scott M. Mourtgos, Department of Political Science, University of Utah, Carolyn and Kem Gardner
Commons, Suite 3345, 260 South Central Campus Drive, Salt Lake City, UT 84112, USA.

Criminal Justice Policy Review 31(5)
relationships, especially with minorities. The public’s trust in the police is essential for
effective law enforcement (Hohl, Bradford, & Stanko, 2010; Lyons, 2002; Mason,
Hillenbrand, & Money, 2014; Sunshine & Tyler, 2003; Tankebe, 2013). The police
need the public’s compliance, cooperation, and empowerment to do their job effec-
tively (Nix, Wolfe, Rojek, & Kaminski, 2015).
However, the police–public trust relationship is not one-sided (Westmarland, 2010).
Although the public’s trust in the police is essential for good police–public relations,
so is police trust in the public. As Kääriäinen and Sirén (2012) state, “[T]he trust of
citizens in the police and the trust of the police in citizens are closely intertwined”
(p. 282). Widespread collaboration and cooperation between the police and the public
is impossible without mutual trust, respect, and support (Moon & Zager, 2007, empha-
sis added). Moreover, mutual trust is essential for democratic governance (Yang,
2005). Although many studies and articles have addressed the public’s trust in the
police (e.g., Brown & Benedict, 2002; Cao, Stack, & Sun, 1998; Goldsmith, 2005;
Hohl et al., 2010; Kääriäinen, 2008; Tuch & Weitzer, 1997; Tyler, 2001; Wu & Sun,
2009; Zamble & Annesley, 1987), few have examined police trust in the public (Carr
& Maxwell, 2018; Mourtgos, Mayer, & Wise, 2017). A potent practical illustration of
this can be seen in the Final Report of the President’s Task Force on 21st Century
Policing (2015). The report outlines “building trust and legitimacy” as the first of six
pillars for the advancement of policing. Although the importance of building trust on
both sides of the police–public relationship is acknowledged, none of the nine recom-
mendations or 19 action items listed for this pillar directly address police trust in the
public. Understanding the trust relationship between two parties requires understand-
ing both sides of the relationship.
Failure to assess police officers’ trust in the public neglects many of the possible
causes of problems in the police–public relationship. This is problematic for at least
two reasons. First, when the police lack trust in the public, we suggest (and test in this
research) that it affects how the police perform their job. For example, they may be
less willing to engage in behaviors that are in the public’s best interest, such as proac-
tive police work. Second, scholars have long recognized that trust is a reciprocal rela-
tionship and that one party’s level of trust affects the other party’s level of trust (e.g.,
Ferrin, Bligh, & Kohles, 2008; Mayer, Bobko, Davis, & Gavin, 2011; Serva, Fuller, &
Mayer, 2005). With the reciprocal nature of trust in mind, it thus follows that when the
police do not trust the public, the public may be less likely to trust the police. The cur-
rent research focuses on police trust in the public. Consequently, we use a police per-
spective in the examples and reasoning here to better understand how police perceptions
affect their trust in the public and their behaviors to protect it.
The complexity of the construct of trust may be one reason for the lack of research
on police trust in the public. Historically, there has been disagreement on how to define
trust, confusion over its relationship with risk, confusion between trust and its anteced-
ents, and a failure to differentiate between a trustor and a trustee (Mayer, Davis, &
Schoorman, 1995). Moreover, regarding criminal justice research specifically, trust
has been imprecisely discussed and often does not have an agreed-upon definition
(Cao, 2015). Notwithstanding these difficulties, researchers began devoting greater

Mourtgos et al.
attention to the study of trust in the mid-1990s because of highly publicized corporate
and government scandals, which generated a new interest in the construct (Schoorman,
Mayer, & Davis, 2007).
Mayer et al. (1995) developed an integrative model of trust that is widely accepted
and influential (Hamm, Trinker, & Carr, 2017). It defines trust as the “willingness of a
party to be vulnerable to the actions of another party based on the expectation that the
other will perform a particular action important to the trustor, irrespective of the ability
to monitor or control that other party” (Mayer et al., 1995, p. 712). Although their
theory of trust has frequently been applied in organizational research, many other dis-
ciplines have also used it including economics, political science, communication, eth-
ics, law, psychology, sociology, and health care (Schoorman et al., 2007). It is
applicable to both individuals and groups (Schoorman et al., 2007), and it has been
used to study trust between different groups (e.g., Muthusamy & White, 2005; Serva
et al., 2005) including police officers’ trust in police administrators (Maurya &
Agarwal, 2013) and the public’s trust in the police (Hamm et al., 2017). This fact is
important because police officers often conceptualize themselves as one group and the
public as another group. This “us vs. them” mentality has been widely documented in
police culture (Paoline, 2003; Silverman, 1999; Sparrow, Moore, & Kennedy, 1990;
Westley, 1970).
Mayer et al.’s (1995) model states that how much a trustor trusts a trustee is deter-
mined by the trustor’s willingness to trust others in general (termed “propensity to
trust”) and the trustor’s perception of the target’s trustworthiness. Although a trustor’s
propensity to trust others is seen as an individual personality trait encompassing their
propensity to trust “most people,” the perceived trustworthiness of a trustee includes
three factors: the trustee’s perceived ability, benevolence, and integrity. Ability refers
to the perceived skills and competencies that enable the trustee to have influence
within a specific domain. Benevolence is the trustor’s perception that the trustee has a
positive orientation toward and wants to do good for the trustor, even if the trustee will
not benefit. Integrity refers to the perception that “the trustee adheres to a set of prin-
ciples that the trustor finds acceptable” (Mayer et al., 1995, p. 719). A perception of
integrity thus encompasses both the acceptability of the trustee’s apparent values and
a judgment that the trustee consistently follows them. How trustworthy a trustor per-
ceives a trustee depends on these three factors, which are related but distinct (Mayer
& Davis, 1999).
Mayer et al.’s (1995) model also differentiates between trust and risk-taking. Trust
is the willingness to be vulnerable, whereas risk-taking is actually becoming vulnera-
. In short, risk-taking is the behavioral expression of trust (Mayer et al., 1995). The
model thus distinguishes among three issues: (a) the perceived characteristics of the
trustee that affect trustworthiness, (b) trust as a behavioral intention to take risk, and
(c) actual risk-taking behavior.
Numerous empirical studies over the last two decades support Mayer et al.’s (1995)
model of trust (e.g., Bhattacherjee, 2002; Gill, Boies, Finegan, & McNally, 2005;
Mayer et al., 2011; Mayer & Davis, 1999; Mayer & Gavin, 2005; Ridings, Gefen, &
Arinze, 2002; Tan & Lim, 2009). Colquitt, Scott, and LePine’s (2007) meta-analysis

Criminal Justice Policy Review 31(5) ...

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