Ben Bradford is a Professor of Global City Policing within the Jill Dando Institute of Security and Crime Science at the University College London.

A recording can be accessed here.

Professor Ben Bradford began his discussion by explaining the basis for the widely held view that immigration and diversity are inherent threats to police and policing in the maintenance of social order and that diversity caused by immigration directly poses a threat to the protection of social cohesion and shared norms that the criminal justice system relies upon. Ben noted that a common theme throughout legitimacy research is the relationship between legitimacy and identity.

During his presentation, Ben drew from three surveys to form charts for analysis of the relationship between trust and immigration: the crime Survey of England and Wales (CSEW), the European Social Survey (ESS), and a survey from London conducted by the Metropolitan Police Service.

The first chart showed that immigrants to the UK had on average higher trust in the police than the UK-born population. Except for one outlier, the longer one had lived in the UK, the less trust they had in the UK police, with those who had arrived in the UK within the last 5 years reporting the highest levels of trust, and those who arrived in the UK as children sharing similar lower levels of trust with those born in the UK. The second chart showed that the previous findings were reflected across ethnicity; the same pattern was displayed when the data was broken down by ethnicity. Ben attributes this conundrum mainly to ‘Giddens’ “leap of faith”’, arguing that immigrants’ higher inclination to trust in the police may be because it decreases the precarious nature of moving to a new area, providing a sense of security and safety in an otherwise uncertain environment.

Another interesting finding was that trust in police among both immigrants and non-immigrants was higher in communities where more immigrants lived, which dispels the notion that diversity of community may negatively impact social cohesion and trust in the police.

Although both UK immigrants and non-immigrants associate procedural justice with legitimacy, non-immigrants were more likely to cooperate with police when they granted them legitimacy, whereas immigrants were more likely to cooperate when they felt they belonged. This points to a key difference that may work to explain the higher level of trust immigrants have in police: because the police represent the state, someone who has recently gained citizenship may respond more positively to procedural justice because it works to communicate an underlying sense of belonging in a relatively new place.

Another key issue Ben explored was the intersection between ethnicity and immigration status. Although a large portion of immigrants reported higher levels of trust in the police, the black Caribbean and Mixed black and white groups of immigrants reported lower levels of trust. Likewise, among non-immigrant reports, every minority group reported less positive views than the white British group. Both of these findings, as Ben pointed out, may be explained by what Benjamin Justice and Tracy Meare call the ‘hidden curriculum’ of policing, which often works to exacerbate existing inequalities that marginalized and socially excluded communities often face, including unemployment, poverty, and discrimination. Therefore, in the same way that procedural justice seems to be more effective in establishing trust in police among immigrant groups through communicating a sense of belonging, procedural injustice works to reinforce social exclusion. However, Ben notes that the experiences of marginalization in daily life leads to less trust in the police as actors of the state in which the inequality exists, regardless of actual experiences with the police.

I do agree with Ben that the general decrease in trust among all immigrants the longer they reside in the UK is most likely indicative of the way in which the hidden curriculum reveals itself. Upon arrival, first generation immigrants may have very little interaction with the actual police, and even less so, interaction with existing communities to understand how they experience and perceive the police, which, as some would argue is even more important than one’s personal experience with the police. Encounters with the police are not isolated—stories of family members’ experiences, friends, coworkers, and the news in general all work to shape perceptions of the police and whether or not they should be trusted. Whereas more recent immigrants may be more concerned with a sense of belonging as Ben’s charts pointed out, the longer one remains in a country, the more ingrained their sense of identity is. I believe that what comes with a strengthened national identity is a change in expectation.

Is it possible that one’s sense of belonging changes the longer one has known and lived in a place, and that this could also explain the decreasing amount of trust immigrants and non-immigrants alike report in police? Pulling from the seminar, it would seem that immigrants who had arrived in the UK within the last five years were more likely to perceive the police from a precarious, but hopeful point of view, less sensitive to the hidden curriculum of policing almost as a protective factor when during the transition to a new country. However, those who had spent longer amounts of time in the UK may have a stronger sense of British citizenship, resulting in different, and likely, higher expectations of the police, especially in comparison to formerly held beliefs that may have been based on the overt policing system that values fairness, equality and justice. It is true that police interactions and behavior alone do not determine how much trust a governed body may have in police. It is very much tied up in personal experiences and relationships to community, and of course, heavily influenced by media and politics. However, it is important for criminologists to continue to grapple with the potential of procedural justice to transform the environment around policing and their relationships with policed communities.


Ericka is a MPhil candidate with the Centre for Criminology.