Moral Order: A mixed-methods study of Student Officer self-legitimacy in the United Kingdom

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The study of police legitimacy is an established subject in criminology. However, until recently, research had largely ignored police perceptions of their own legitimacy. This was highlighted by Bottoms and Tankebe (2012) who argue that legitimacy is a ‘perpetual dialogue’ between power-holders, such as the police, and their audiences, such as the public. Drawing on the theorising of Max Weber, they developed what they call self-legitimacy or power-holder legitimacy to refer to the ways in which those in power seek to justify their authority to themselves and their audiences. Since then, researchers have begun to explore the predictors of police self-legitimacy and its impact on attitudes and reported behaviours. To date, research on self-legitimacy is largely cross-sectional and survey-based.

This thesis uses a mixed-methodology to study self-legitimacy among a cohort of 97 student officers from Greater Manchester Police (GMP). The students were surveyed and interviewed at the start of their police training (Wave 1) and again after they completed their tutor patrol phase (Wave 2). In addition, semi-ethnographic work was carried out at the Sedgley Park Training Centre and a police station. The fieldwork began May 2018 and was completed in January 2019. The survey results are analysed using Microsoft Excel and R. The qualitative data was analysed using Nvivo. From the analysis, a few things are clear. First, the students’ primary expectation is that they will be supported by their colleagues and supervisors. This included receiving backup during physical danger and guidance to help them improve in their role. They also believe they will have a generally positive relationship with the public. Second, the student officers construct their roles as protectors who safeguard people and uphold the law. They believe their authority is justified because it is necessary to carry out their crucial role. Third, the participants wish to become power-holders that are ethical and effective. In turn, they wish to avoid becoming corrupt police officers. Overall, the data suggests that the officers have well-formed beliefs about the police role and feel that their authority is legitimate. It argues that students are concerned with what is being termed ‘moral order’; that is, upholding social order in an ethical manner. This thesis concludes with practical implications and recommendations for future research.

Tankebe, Justice
Greater Manchester Police, mixed methods, morality, police, police legitimacy, power-holder legitimacy, qualitative, recruits, self-legitimacy, student officers
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Awarding Institution
University of Cambridge
Roberta Sykes Scholarship Cambridge Trust Scholarship Smuts Memorial Fund