Are Informed Citizens More Trusting? Transparency of Performance Data and Trust Towards a British Police Force

Journal of Business Ethics 122 (2):321-341 (2014)
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Abstract

In Britain, substantial cuts in police budgets alongside controversial handling of incidents such as politically sensitive enquiries, public disorder and relations with the media have recently triggered much debate about public knowledge and trust in the police. To date, however, little academic research has investigated how knowledge of police performance impacts citizens’ trust. We address this long-standing lacuna by exploring citizens’ trust before and after exposure to real performance data in the context of a British police force. The results reveal that being informed of performance data affects citizens’ trust significantly. Furthermore, direction and degree of change in trust are related to variations across the different elements of the reported performance criteria. Interestingly, the volatility of citizens’ trust is related to initial performance perceptions, and citizens’ intentions to support the police do not always correlate with their cognitive and affective trust towards the police. In discussing our findings, we explore the implications of how being transparent with performance data can both hinder and be helpful in developing citizens’ trust towards a public organisation such as the police. From our study, we pose a number of ethical challenges that practitioners face when deciding what data to highlight, to whom, and for what purpose.

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