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The Role of Ethnic Minority Communities and Identities in Explaining Relationships with and Attitudes toward the Police in the London Borough of Hackney



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Stavisky, Maya 


This dissertation draws on criminology, social and developmental psychology and urban sociology in order to understand how contextual, situational and individual characteristics contribute to young people’s relationships with and attitudes toward the police. The study’s key question is: is ethnicity salient for understanding people’s views of the police in Hackney? In answering this question, I adopt Bronfenbrenner’s (1979) systemic framework, which proposes that the developing individual is embedded within a complex structure of influences that shape perceptions and behaviours.

This mixed-methods study examines different aspects of the relationships between the police and ethnic minorities in the London Borough of Hackney using qualitative (interviews with community leaders and focus groups with secondary school pupils) and quantitative (surveys) research methods. I explore different levels of association with the police (community and individual) based on the understanding that cultures and historical attitudes influence community/police relationships. I also explore different modes of contact (direct and vicarious) within different settings (neighbourhood and school).

I examine the applicability of the ‘race and ethnicity’ paradigm in explaining current police/minority dynamics by taking a nuanced view of these often artificially broadened categories. I consider other influences, such us social groupings and history of migration as well as community assets of collective efficacy and organisational capacity. The empirical work presented here links knowledge construction about the police to identity processes in order to help understand communities’ attitudes generally, and children’s specifically. As such, it provides insight into the process of legal socialisation.

I explore the relationship between general attitudes about the police (in schools under the Safer School Partnerships scheme and in neighbourhoods) and specific attitudes, including police legitimacy, treatment, performance and pupils’ willingness to help them (Tyler, 2006). I find that ethnic background has a limited relationship to general attitudes toward the police, with the exception of Black African pupils, indicating that the use of knowledge about the police interacts with identity development processes for some but not for others. Age, social capital, pupils’ association with crime and contact with the police are more reliably related to attitudes toward the police. Surprisingly, I find that migrant pupils and those who are recipients of free meals hold more positive attitudes to the police in school than their counterparts. I find that young people’s opinions of the police are more strongly linked to school police officers’ performance than fair treatment. While this is a case study, it has implications for theory, practice and policy beyond Hackney, specifically relating to police legitimacy and policing ethnic minorities and young people in ethnically diverse locales.





Coupe , Timothy


Police, Attitudes, Legal-Socialization, Hackney, BME


Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Awarding Institution

University of Cambridge