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Dr Thiago Oliveira

Lecturer in Criminology
Tuesdays: 10:30 -- 11:30 (Online); Fridays: 14:00 -- 16:00 (20AD03)


Areas of specialism

Policing; Police legitimacy; Legal cynicism; Police misconduct; Police use of force; Neighbourhood violence; Quantitative methods; Causal inference; R Programming

My qualifications

BA in Social Sciences
Universidade de São Paulo
MA in Sociology
Universidade de São Paulo
PhD in Social Research Methods
London School of Economics and Political Science

Academic networks


    Research interests


    Postgraduate research supervision



    Thiago R. Oliveira (2022) Aggressive policing and undermined legitimacy: Assessing the impact of police stops at gunpoint on perceptions of police in São Paulo, Brazil. Journal of Experimental Criminology.

    Objectives: Test the effects of a recent police stop and a recent police stop at gunpoint on changes in attitudes towards the police among residents of Brazil’s biggest city.

    Methods: A three-wave longitudinal survey of São Paulo residents (2015-2019) measured people’s beliefs about police legitimacy, expectations of police fairness, effectiveness, and overpolicing, whether they were recently stopped by the police, and whether officers had pointed a gun at them during that stop. Analysis is carried out using matching methods for panel data.

    Results: While estimates are too imprecise to suggest an effect of a recent police stop on attitudinal change, recent police stops at gunpoint decrease public expectations of police fairness, increase expectations of over- policing, and harm public beliefs of police legitimacy.

    Conclusions: Under a credible conditional parallel trends assumption, this study provides causal evidence on the relationship between aggressive policing practices and legal attitudes, with implications to public recognition of legal authority in a major Global South city.

    Joel Suss & Thiago R. Oliveira (2022) Economic inequality and the spatial distribution of stop and search: evidence from London. The British Journal of Criminology.

    We analyse the spatial concentration of stop and search (S&S) practices. Previous work argues that the persistent reliance on S&S, despite weak to null deterrent effects on crime, results from a social order maintenance motivation on the part of the police. Expanding previous studies that focused on *who* tends to be stopped and searched by police officers, we focus on *where* S&S concentrates and investigate the role of economic inequality. We use data from London in 2019 and demonstrate that a novel measure of salient, spatially-granular economic inequality is positively associated with S&S incidence at a small spatial scale, even when controlling for crime rates and other important variables. Police officers more frequently stop and search members of the public in places where the well-off and the economically precarious co-exist. Implications for understanding S&S as a tool which distinguishes between citizens, between those to protect and potential criminals, are discussed.

    Jonathan Jackson, Krisztián Pósch, Thiago R. Oliveira, Ben Bradford, Silvia Camões, Ariadne Natal, & André Zanetic (2022) Fear and legitimacy in São Paulo, Brazil: police-citizen relations in a high violence, high fear city. Law & Society Review.

    We examine consensual and coercive police–citizen relations in São Paulo, Brazil. According to procedural justice theory, popular legitimacy operates as part of a virtuous circle, whereby normatively appropriate police behavior encourages people to self-regulate, which then reduces the need for coercive forms of social control. But can consensual and coercive police–citizen relations be so easily disentangled in a city in which many people fear crime, where the ability to use force can often be palpable in even mundane police–citizen interactions, where some people fear police but also tolerate extreme police violence, and where the image of the military police as “just another (violent) gang” has significant cultural currency? Legitimacy has two components—assent (ascribed right to power) and consent (conferred right to govern)—and consistent with prior work from the US, UK, and Australia, we find that procedural justice is key to the legitimation of the police. Yet, the empirical link between legitimacy and legal compliance is complicated by ambivalent authority relations, rooted in part in heightened cultural expectations about police use of force to exercise power. We finish the paper with a discussion of the theoretical and policy implications of these findings.

    Thiago R. Oliveira & Jonathan Jackson (2021) Legitimacy, trust and legal cynicism: A review of concepts. Tempo Social.

    We review the concepts of legitimacy, trust, and legal cynicism in the context the debate about police legitimacy, discuss the extent to which these concepts relate to each other, and offer some early, speculative thoughts on how a relational model of legitimacy can extend beyond procedural justiceconcerns. Relying upon procedural justice theory, we emphasise the distinction between police legitimacy and legitimation: popular legitimacy is defined as public beliefs that legal authority has the right to rule (people acknowledge the moral appropriateness of legal authority) and the authority to govern (people recognise legal authority as the rightful authority), whereas legitimation is related to the criteria people use to judge the normative appropriateness of legal agents’ exercise of power (e.g., the extent to which police officers are trustworthy to behave in accordance with people’s normative expectations). Building on studies on legal cynicism and legal socialisation, we consider how other aspects of police conduct can send negative relational messages about people’s value within society and undermine their judgements about the legitimacy of legal authority –messages of oppression, marginalisation,and neglectover the life course. We conclude suggesting avenues for future research on public-police relations.

    Thiago R. Oliveira, Jonathan Jackson, Kristina Murphy, Ben Bradford (2021) Are trustworthiness and legitimacy ‘hard to win, easy to lose’? A longitudinal test of the asymmetry thesis of police-citizen contact. Journal of Quantitative Criminology.

    Objectives: Test the asymmetry thesis of police-citizen contact that police trustworthiness and legitimacy are affected more by negative than by positive experiences of interactions with legal agents by analyzing changes in attitudes towards the police after an encounter with the police. Test whether prior attitudes moderate the impact of contact on changes in attitudes towards the police.

    Methods: A two-wave panel survey of a nationally representative sample of Australian adults measured people’s beliefs about police trustworthiness (procedural fairness and effectiveness), their duty to obey the police, their contact with the police between the two waves, and their evaluation of those encounters in terms of process and outcome. Analysis is carried out using autoregressive structural equation modeling and latent moderated structural models.

    Results: The association between both process and outcome evaluation of police-citizen encounters and changes in attitudes towards the police is asymmetrical for trust in police effectiveness, symmetrical for trust in procedural fairness, and asymmetrical (in the opposite direction expected) for duty to obey the police. Little evidence of heterogeneity in the association between encounters and trust in procedural fairness and duty to obey, but prior levels of perceived effectiveness moderate the association between outcome evaluation and changes in trust in police effectiveness.

    Conclusions: The association between police-citizen encounters and attitudes towards the police may not be as asymmetrical as previously thought, particularly for changes in trust in procedural fairness and legitimacy. Policy implications include considering public-police interactions as ‘teachable moments’ and potential sources for enhancing police trustworthiness and legitimacy.

    Jonathan Jackson, Ian Brunton-Smith, Ben Bradford, Thiago R. Oliveira, Kristian Pósch, Patrick Sturgis (2021) Police legitimacy and the norm to cooperate: using a mixed effects location scale model to estimate the strength of social norms at a small spatial scale. Journal of Quantitative Criminology.


    Objectives: Test whether cooperation with the police can be modelled as a place-based norm that varies in strength from one neighborhood to the next. Estimate whether perceived police legitimacy predicts an individual’s willingness to cooperate in weak-norm neighborhoods, but not in strong-norm neighborhoods where most people are either willing or unwilling to cooperate, irrespective of their perceptions of police legitimacy.

    Methods: A survey of 1057 individuals in 98 relatively high-crime English neighborhoods defined at a small spatial scale measured (a) willingness to cooperate using a hypothetical crime vignette and (b) legitimacy using indicators of normative alignment between police and citizen values. A mixed-effects, location-scale model estimated the cluster-level mean and cluster-level variance of willingness to cooperate as a neighborhood-level latent variable. A cross-level interaction tested whether legitimacy predicts individual-level willingness to cooperate only in neighborhoods where the norm is weak.

    Results: Willingness to cooperate clustered strongly by neighborhood. There were neighborhoods with (1) high mean and low variance, (2) high mean and high variance, (3) (relatively) low mean and low variance, and (4) (relatively) low mean and high variance. Legitimacy was only a positive predictor of cooperation in neighborhoods that had a (relatively) low mean and high variance. There was little variance left to explain in neighborhoods where the norm was strong.

    Conclusions: Findings support a boundary condition of procedural justice theory: namely, that cooperation can be modelled as a place-based norm that varies in strength from neighborhood to neighborhood and that legitimacy only predicts an individual’s willingness to cooperate in neighborhoods where the norm is relatively weak.

    Thiago R. Oliveira (2019) Juvenile Sentencing: A Mixed-Methods Approach. Brazilian Political Science Review.

    How do socially relevant attributes influence juvenile criminal sentencing? While judicial decisions should, in principle, be fully based on legally relevant factors such as the seriousness of the offense and the defendant’s criminal record, I ask whether and how extralegal characteristics related to the adolescent’s position in structural relations affect the decision-making process. I propose a mixed-methods design to study mechanisms of criminal sentencing. Using data from a representative sample of the São Paulo juvenile justice system records, I estimate mixed-effects logistic models to assess the probability of being sentenced to confinement given certain extralegal attributes, while controlling for legally relevant variables. Interaction effects show that adolescents registered as full-time students and classified as drug users are more likely to be sentenced to confinement than their counterparts, even when the arraignment is the same. The second step involved weekly visits to the juvenile courthouse in São Paulo over four months to observe judicial hearings. Prosecutors are central to the decision-making process. The standard decision-making mechanism is based on police documents and legally relevant information. When there is a rupture in the definition of the situation (usually when non-minority defendants enter the courtroom), a new mechanism emerges and more lenient decisions are made.