Bounded authority: Expanding "appropriate" police behavior beyond procedural justice

Rick Trinkner, Jonathan Jackson, Tom R. Tyler

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    80 Scopus citations


    This paper expands previous conceptualizations of appropriate police behavior beyond procedural justice. The focus of the current study is on the notion of bounded authority-that is, acting within the limits of one's rightful authority. According to work on legal socialization, U.S. citizens come to acquire three dimensions of values that determine how authorities ought to behave: (a) neutral, consistent, and transparent decision-making; (b) interpersonal treatment that conveys respect, dignity, and concern; and (c) respecting the limits of one's rightful power. Using survey data from a nationally representative sample of U.S. adults, we show that concerns over bounded authority, respectful treatment, and neutral decision-making combine to form a strong predictor of police and legal legitimacy. We also find that legal legitimacy is associated with greater compliance behavior, controlling for personal morality and perceived likelihood of sanctions. We discuss the implications of a boundary perspective with respect to ongoing debates over the appropriate scope of police power and the utility of concentrated police activities. We also highlight the need for further research specifically focused on the psychological mechanisms underlying the formation of boundaries and why they shape the legitimacy of the police and law.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Pages (from-to)280-293
    Number of pages14
    JournalLaw and human behavior
    Issue number3
    StatePublished - Jun 2018


    • Compliance
    • Legal legitimacy
    • Legal socialization
    • Police legitimacy
    • Procedural justice

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
    • Psychology(all)
    • Psychiatry and Mental health
    • Law


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