Updated: Apr 5, 2018
Shun-Yung Kevin Wang
Associate Professor, University of South Florida - St. Petersburg, 140 7th Ave S, St. Petersburg, FL 33701, USA
This study aims to review and reinterpret Taiwanese citizens’ trust in the police, with a focus on taking its social changes, political transitions, and historical background into consideration. Modern Taiwan inherits both Chinese and Japanese cultures, and the urbanization on the island has generated substantial differences between rural areas and metropolitans. The political system has also successfully transformed from authoritarianism to democracy since late 1980s and subsequently leads to paradigm shift in policing. All of the contemporary empirical studies regarding public assessments of the police are based on survey data, however, they either poorly measure the multi-dimensional nature of trust as a social construct or understudy social-historical context when interpreting survey findings. This review attempts to fill the gap and points out the demand of qualitative insights in future research.
After nearly three decades of democratization, Taiwan is considered as a democratic country that successfully transformed from authoritarian regime. Along with the major political change, social institutions, including the police that is in charge of maintaining social order, have to make substantial efforts in adjustment in order to remain functional in a different social context. In democracy, citizens’ attitudes toward the police and assessments of their performance has become important reflections of their belief of the authority’s legitimacy. In democratic societies, citizens’ attitudes toward the police can influence their perceptions of public safety, political support of the authority, and then compliance with the law (Tyler, 1990). A lack of public support and trust in the police signals inadequate policing or insufficient crime control efforts, which can lead to more serious political consequences, including threats to the legitimacy of domestic governance (Wang & Sun, 2018).
The primary purpose of this study is to articulate recent empirical studies of Taiwanese’ assessment of the police, offer alternative interpretations of the survey findings based on Taiwan’s social-historical background, and then sum up a direction of future research. Two reasons justify this study. First, Taiwan is an island society that has experimented political transformation and successfully switched from authoritarianism to democracy (Cao et al., 2014), and such a case offers implications to other Chinese societies that either face enormous societal and economic changes (e.g., China) or political transitions (e.g., Hong Kong and Macau). Second, while recent studies have assessed public trust in the police in Taiwan (Sun et al., 2014; Wu, 2014; Wu et al., 2012) or other Chinese societies (Wu & Sun, 2009; Wu et al., 2012), they often measured the level of police trustworthiness using a singular dummy or ordinal variable. In addition, only one recent empirical study on the Taiwan police addresses rural and urban difference (Wang & Sun, 2018), but, like many prior studies, the interpretation is lacking sufficient social-historical context, which is elaborated in this review.
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