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As the institution responsible for exercising the state monopoly on violence within U.S. borders, the legitimacy of policing depends on its accountability through the democratic process. Ideally, police in a democracy are authorized by the voting public to use force in a manner that is limited, justifiable, and clearly in service of the aims of public safety and law enforcement - in other words to prevent the social harms associated with criminal behavior. A combination of factors including structural inequality, historical associations with white supremacy, and hyperlocal oversight structures present significant challenges to police legitimacy, especially in highly policed communities of color. Despite the existence of various models and mechanisms that provide the potential for meaningful community oversight of police activity, abolitionist perspectives that argue for a radically different approach to public safety are gaining strength. Enhancing police legitimacy and accountability therefore depends on reducing broader race-based social, political, and economic inequities; establishing consistent national standards for police practices; ensuring strong civilian oversight across jurisdictions; and promoting procedural justice as the fundamental guiding principle for police interactions with the communities they serve.


DOI: 10.1007/978-3-030-77565-0_4

This work was originally published in the "Handbook of Issues in Criminal Justice Reform in the United States. Final version:

Stageman ORCID:



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