Understanding Police Legitimacy in Solomon Islands and Tonga: Examining the Application of the Procedural Justice, Service Delivery and Authority Perspectives and the Influence of Context

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis


From 1998 to 2003 Solomon Islands experienced a low intensity civil war that disrupted the state, resulting in a breakdown in law and order and the virtual collapse of the Royal Solomon Islands Police Force (RSIPF). On the 16th of November 2006 a riot engulfed the capital of Tonga, Nuku’alofa, and for several hours Tongans engaged in looting and property destruction that the Tonga Police Force (TPF) was unable to prevent. In response to both of these crises, police-led interventions were deployed: the Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands
(RAMSI), and Operation Tokoni and the Tonga Police Development Program (TPDP), respectively. These operations varied in their size, scope and responsibilities, yet they had a common aim of supporting the restoration of law and order, development and reform of the local police organisations. Understanding how to generate legitimacy for state institutions that
have been reformed with external assistance remains one of the key challenges for state building and security sector reform (SSR). This thesis, through case analyses that drew on secondary and grey literature to highlight key contextual features of policing in Solomon Islands and Tonga, interviews conducted with community leaders at the two case study sites, and secondary focus group as well as survey data, examined perceptions of the legitimacy of local and external police and the factors that influenced participants’ views. It sought to investigate the application of three conceptual perspectives, defined in relation to ‘procedural justice’, ‘service delivery’ and ‘authority’, on the creation of police legitimacy in the contexts of regulatory pluralist post-conflict states that have hosted foreign police-led interventions. This thesis aimed to bring the voices of the research participants into the discussion of, and is the first to explore, police legitimacy in these settings.

Findings indicate that individuals’ judgements of police legitimacy are complex and informed by their direct and vicarious experiences of policing across time. A range of considerations impacted participants’ legitimacy assessments, including perceptions of: agency-level and officer-level procedural justice, the capacity and willingness of police to provide service delivery, and authority and its associated relationship to the use of coercion. The influence of these factors on police legitimacy was affected by respondents’ expectations of policing, which
were in turn informed by their accumulated experiences. These experiences occurred within, and were shaped by, the broader socio-political and policing environment. Significant shifts in environmental conditions exerted influence over what antecedents of police legitimacy were ii most impactful at different points in time. The crises experienced in each of the case study sites
limited the impact procedural justice policing had on perceptions of local police, with the lack of service delivery and police authority undermining legitimacy at that time. In contrast, the deployment of external police missions was seen to restore service delivery and police authority, but the differing forms of regulatory pluralism in Solomon Islands and Tonga resulted in divergent perceptions of how local and external police were expected to act, particularly in relation to the use of coercion, respecting local culture, and local engagement in service delivery. The varied impacts of these key environmental changes illustrated the
importance of both context and time in shaping individuals’ judgements of police legitimacy.

Based on these findings this thesis proposed a new model that aims to provide a holistic representation of the occurrence of police legitimacy. It advances knowledge of legitimacy by integrating procedural justice, a conceptual revision of service delivery, and police authority together as antecedents to legitimacy, while accounting for the influences of individuals’ accumulated experiences of policing, and associated expectations. Further, it integrates context in a new way by focusing on broader socio-political and policing conditions. This enables
recognition of the influence that environmental shifts, such as conflict, external policing interventions, or regulatory pluralism can have on individuals’ experiences and expectations of policing. Overall, the model broadens the antecedents of police legitimacy, and situates its incidence in context.

Five considerations for future police building practice are highlighted, focused on mission design and officer conduct. First, where operationally feasible, external police should be deployed to positions within, or in support of, local police organisations to help boost their legitimacy through positive association. Second, mission planners should aim to recruit officers that have experience of policing in diverse communities or are from similar cultural backgrounds to avoid the possibility of cultural misunderstandings with the local population. Finally, to aid in the cultivation of legitimacy, this thesis suggests that local and external police
take three actions: adopt a procedurally just approach to policing, build strong relationships with local communities to aid the delivery of services in line with local expectations, and engage in activities that positively reinforce police authority. The aim of these suggestions is to promote the design and deployment of police building missions that supports the development
of locally legitimate and responsive policing institutions.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Griffith University
  • Prenzler, Tim, Principal Supervisor, External person
  • Porter, Louise, Principal Supervisor, External person
  • Bull, Melissa, Associate Supervisor, External person
Award date12 Dec 2020
Place of PublicationBrisbane
Publication statusPublished - 10 Dec 2020
Externally publishedYes


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