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Solving crimes often requires community cooperation. Cooperation is thought by many scholars to depend critically on whether community members believe that law enforcement institutions are legitimate and trustworthy. Yet establishing an empirical link between legitimacy and cooperation has proven elusive, with most studies relying on surveys or lab experiments of people’s beliefs and attitudes, rather than on their behavior in the real world. This Article aims to overcome these shortcomings, capitalizing on a unique natural policy experiment to directly address a fundamental question about legitimacy, cooperation, and law enforcement success: do de-legitimating policy interventions actually undermine community cooperation with the police? The policy experiment is a massive federal immigration enforcement program called Secure Communities. Secure Communities was widely criticized for undermining the legitimacy of local police in the eyes of immigrants, and it was rolled out nationwide over a four-year period in a way that approximates a natural experiment. Using the rate at which police solve crimes as a proxy for community cooperation, we find no evidence that the program reduced community cooperation — despite its massive size and broad scope. The results call into question optimistic claims that discrete policy interventions can, in the short run, meaningfully affect community perceptions of law enforcement legitimacy in ways that shape community cooperation with police.

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cooperation, legitimacy, procedural justice, immigration, police