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Remarks of Laurie Robinson, Acting Assistant Attorney General
Office of Justice Programs

Legitimacy and Community Cooperation with Law Enforcement Seminar
Tuesday, August 25, 2009
Washington, DC

        Good morning, and welcome.

        I'm glad so many of you could be here. A special welcome to those of you from other parts of DOJ.

        I'm very pleased to have Dr. Tom Tyler from New York University's Department of Psychology with us today to talk about the very important issue of legitimacy and cooperation with the police.

        I think everyone here would agree that local law enforcement has one of the most challenging jobs in criminal justice. They're on the front line in safeguarding communities and maintaining public safety.

        Of course, they don't do this alone, or in a vacuum: This is one of the fundamental principles of community policing.

        To cite Dr. Tyler's work, the success of the police in maintaining social order is ultimately linked to the attitudes and the behaviors of people living in the neighborhoods and the communities being policed. Police work can be made more difficult – even impossible – without the active cooperation of the people in the community.

        But not everyone is willing to cooperate with the police. So what are the factors that determine community cooperation? This has been a focus of Dr. Tyler's work, and it's the focus of our discussion today.

        Our discussion today focuses on the notion of legitimacy, a key concept in Professor Tyler's research. When we talk about social order or questions of authority, legitimacy is usually taken to mean the sense of obligation to obey or to defer to an authority.

        The events surrounding the arrest of Professor Gates in Cambridge have raised questions about police decision-making and police conduct. But they have also underscored the point that notions of legitimacy and perceptions of fairness – of procedural fairness, of just and appropriate processes – are crucial to effective policing, and to public safety overall.

        Professor Tyler's research focuses on the connection between legitimacy and the willingness to cooperate with the police.

        Since the police rely on the active cooperation of citizens and community residents, understanding legitimacy is crucial. This means knowing what can cause legitimacy to degrade and what can be done to increase and sustain it.

        Sometimes, these issues have been caught up in fairly narrow discussions of racial profiling. And while it's clear that overt racial bias on the part of the police is a significant issue we must address, I think Professor Tyler's work, and today's lecture, challenge us to broaden our frame of thinking BEYOND the question of race, to larger notions of legitimacy, and trust and confidence in the police.

        The way in which policing is done, and the way that police conduct themselves get at the distinction that the Attorney General has made between being tough on crime and being smart on crime.

        We're glad for the opportunity to hear from Professor Tyler today to help stimulate a thoughtful discussion on these issues.

        Please welcome Dr. Tom Tyler.


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