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Cooperation with the police in a diverse society: the case of South Africa

How can a country with one of the highest murder rates in the world, but with a similar police population size to the UK, become a safer place for all its citizens? Crime is one of the main problems that South Africa’s people, institutions and government are currently trying to face. The police cannot face this problem without the cooperation of the public. In order to better understand why South African people cooperate with the police this study tests the Tyler’s procedural justice model in this complex and divided society. The data are drawn from the South African Social Attitudes Survey (SASAS, round 2011). By using the group value model some Confirmatory Factor Analyses demonstrate that improvements in procedural justice are associated with a stronger national identity for Coloured and Indian people. Conversely, White and again Coloured people reinforce their racial identity when perceptions of procedural justice increase. Further analysis with Structural Equation Models is carried out to test the association with cooperation. On the one hand, for most racial groups procedural justice is the main predictor of willingness to cooperate with the police. On the other hand, police legitimacy is mainly based on evaluations of police effectiveness. All these findings demonstrate that South Africa is a country that shares some features with Anglo-American policing democracies but also with other developing countries in which legitimacy is called into question. Policing policy-makers should take into account the racial differences that this study has found when it comes to implementing some models in order to foster cooperation with the police.

procedural justice, crime, group identity, structural equation model, South Africa