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Can We Fix the ‘Crisis of Legitimacy’ in American Policing?

Publication Date

June 2024


Dennis P. Rosenbaum, Ph.D.


Calls for police reform play an integral part in the evolution of modern policing. But what truly needs reform is how police agencies evaluate their performance. Rather than determining effectiveness exclusively through crime-fighting statistics, police agencies must also incorporate assessments of how community members are treated. Evidence-based policing must acknowledge a large body of research on procedural justice and recognize the critical role it plays in determining police legitimacy. To implement effective reforms within this framework, the definition of “good policing” must be reimagined, as well as the metrics used to evaluate it. This Ideas in American Policing essay examines previous reform concepts and their shortfalls. It explores how human behavior is heavily influenced by incentives and disincentives and whether a strong enough reward system is in place to truly move officers from the “warrior” to the “guardian” mentality. Lastly, it examines what police leaders, government officials, and policing scholars will need to do to implement, successfully evaluate, and achieve lasting reform within the communities being served.

Recommended Citation

Rosenbaum, D.P. (2024). Can we fix the “crisis of legitimacy” in American policing? National Policing Institute. https://www.policinginstitute.org/publication/can-we-fix-the-crisis-of-legitimacy-in-american-policing/