Police enjoy greater level of trust than other institutions in Europe

24 May 2018

In European countries, the level of trust in the police is relatively high compared to other institutions such as the parliament, the judiciary and the civil service. Low corruption and a police force that acts with integrity are more important for winning trust than the crime figures. That is apparent from research carried out by criminologist Dorian Schaap. He recently obtained his PhD with NWO funding for Research Talent at Radboud University.

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In his doctoral research, Schaap compared the level of trust that citizens have in the police in various countries within the European Union. He also investigated the strategies police forces use to increase that trust.

High level of trust

Over the past few decades, the level of trust in the police has increased in most European countries, unlike the trust in other institutions such as the parliament, the judiciary and the civil service. In the Netherlands, the level of trust in the police was found to be high compared to other countries. Schaap: ‘Between 1981 and 2002, the level of trust in the police gradually fell with a considerable dip in 2002, the year in which the Dutch politician Pim Fortuyn was murdered. However, the level of trust has slowly risen again since 2002.’

Three types of strategy

Schaap distinguishes three types of strategy that the police use to try to win the trust of citizens. The first is a focus on effectiveness and crime fighting. Interestingly, national crime figures have no influence on the level of trust. Schaap: ‘Denmark and Sweden, for example, are countries with considerable crime rates but the level of trust in the police is nevertheless high. In Croatia, the crime figures are lower but even so there is little trust in the police.’

The second strategy is community policing (the local bobby). However, the strongest positive correlation with the level of trust is the third strategy: an emphasis on the police acting honestly and combating corruption in a country.

Crime fighting

Although crime fighting appears to have no effect on trust, the interviews that Schaap conducted with police officers in England, Denmark and the Netherlands revealed that this strategy is indeed often seen as a good way of winning trust. The interviews also revealed that trust-winning strategies strongly differ per country and even per neighbourhood. This depends on local conditions and needs. Simply combating corruption is therefore not necessarily a solution for the entire country.

Schaap: ‘In Denmark, for example, there is on average a high level of trust in the police and little corruption. However, there are considerable problems with trust in poorer regions and in neighbourhoods with many ethnic minorities. In such an environment, the police try to win trust with forms of community policing: operating close to the citizen.’

Further information

Curious to find out more? Please contact: Dorian Schaap, (024) 361 1698, schaap@jur.ru.nl

Source: Radboud University