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Affect and trust as predictors of public support for armed police: evidence from London

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Police in England, Scotland and Wales operate largely unarmed and have done since the formation of the London Metropolitan Police in 1829. However, recent terror attacks and concern over serious violent crime have prompted increased funding for armed officers and even calls for routine arming of police. In this paper, we present results from the first in-depth study of public attitudes towards the arming of more police. Starting from the assumption that most people have little concrete knowledge of the potential benefits and risks of doing so, we show that trust, and particularly affective responses to the idea of armed police, are central in shaping support for the routine arming of more officers. A range of other sociological and psychological variables are also important, but only in as much as they are correlated with trust and, again, particularly affect. Our findings have implications not only for this specific policy development, but also wider consideration of lay reactions to changes in police policy and technology.
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... Trust comprises a second and closely related heuristic, in that affective responses to a particular issue are formed in the context of trust, or distrust, in the actors concerned (c.f. Yesberg and Bradford 2018). It is well established that trust informs people's willingness to accept police presence, action and authority to dictate appropriate behaviour (Jackson and Bradford 2010;Sunshine and Tyler 2003;Tyler 2013;Tyler and Huo 2002). ...
... Second, in previous studies that have shown that trust predicts acceptance of police powers and abilities but that did not include measures of legitimacy (e.g. Yesberg and Bradford 2018), trust may have been standing as a partial or full proxy for legitimacy. If this is indeed the case, then it would alter our understanding of why people support or oppose granting new powers to the police by shifting the emphasis from trust to legitimacy as the central heuristic. ...
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... As criminology scholars have recently argued, public perceptions (which Yesberg and Bradford [2019] term "affect") are correlated with trust of the police. They point out that affect shapes people's views of the police, but in turn affective responses are "shaped, in part, by trust" (Yesberg andBradford 2019, 1060). Thus trust and affect are correlated. ...
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