Police Legitimacy and Indigenous Self-Determination

Mr Michael Bryden1,2

1University of Cambridge, Cambridge, United Kingdom
2University of Technology Sydney (UTS), Ultimo, Australia


The use of police to establish settler societies and suppress Indigenous resistance is well-documented. To date, the police, as the gatekeepers to the criminal justice system, continue to play a disproportionate role in the lives of Indigenous peoples. With the Indigenous push for self-determination and the global movements to defund the police, issues of police legitimacy are paramount. Surprisingly, extant research on legitimacy has largely ignored Indigenous perspectives on policing and the wider context of settler colonialism. This paper argues that Indigenous self-determination cannot be achieved without legitimate policing. Building on the theorising of Bottoms and Tankebe (2012), it suggests that decolonised legitimacy dialogues are necessary to establish Indigenous viewpoints. These dialogues seek to centre Indigenous worldviews with the intent of prioritising and implementing their desired forms of social control. The paper suggests that police legitimacy may be enhanced via two pathways; that is, through reforms to the traditional state model, but also through Indigenous-generated forms, such as night patrols or justice reinvestment.  These pathways consider the importance of both community-informed and evidence-based approaches to policing and social order.


Michael Bryden is a Criminology PhD candidate at the Cambridge Institute of Criminology and a Research Associate at the Jumbunna Institute for Indigenous Education and Research, University of Technology Sydney. His research explores police legitimacy, recruit training, harm reduction, and Indigenous self-determination. He also hosts the Rethinking Deviance podcast. Michael holds a BA (Hons) in Criminology and Politics from Monash University and a MPhil in Criminology Research from the University of Cambridge.