Search and Seizure Jurisprudence: Community Perceptions of Police Legitimacy in the United States

  • S. Hakan Can
  • Durant Frantzen


Perceptions of police legitimacy have a significant impact on reported crime rates and public order, particularly as it relates to police searches and seizures. Research has shown that variations in community demographics play a vital role in how the police are perceived by their constituents, as well as how crime is differentially enforced in these communities. One limitation from this line of research is the tendency to focus on racial differences (e.g., Black vs. White), with less attention devoted to ethnic variations. This study examines how perceptions of police searches and seizures (as defined by U.S. Supreme Court case law) compare in a majority-Hispanic community in the Southwest and a majority-White community in the Northeast. We also explore the differential perceptions toward police legitimacy as defined by the type of police search or seizure; that is, whether vehicle stops and searches are viewed as more or less legitimate compared to person and residential searches and whether such views vary according to race and ethnicity, as well as region. Results indicate that perceptions of police search legality are mediated by region. Differences in racial perceptions of the police were found among respondents in the Northeast, with African-Americans least likely to favor police search policies compared to Hispanics and Whites. However, no such differences were found in the Southwest. The findings are discussed within the larger context of police-community relations research.


Police legitimacy Search and seizure Public perceptions of police Police stops 


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • S. Hakan Can
    • 1
  • Durant Frantzen
    • 2
  1. 1.Penn State UniversitySchuylkillUSA
  2. 2.Texas A & M UniversityCollege StationUSA

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