Professor of Criminology, Law and Society, George Mason University
- Police officers who received procedural justice training were significantly more likely to be respectful in interactions with civilians than were officers who took a shorter training not focused on procedural justice.
- In addition to being more likely to show respect, officers who took the training made significantly fewer arrests, and residents were significantly less likely to perceive trained police as harassing or using unnecessary force. In addition, crime declined in places where officers took the training.
In the article, “Reforming the Police Through Procedural Justice Training: A Multicity Randomized Trial at Crime Hot Spots,” David Weisburd explores the effectiveness of procedural justice training in teaching police to treat civilians fairly and respectfully. Weisburd and his co-authors randomly allocated 120 crime hot spots—high-crime segments of residential streets—in Tucson, AZ., Cambridge, MA., and Houston, TX, to be part of the study, with each city participating for nine months between 2017 and 2020. Nearly 30 officers were randomly assigned to a procedural justice training, while other officers took part in a shorter training that did not address procedural justice. Police self-report surveys assessed whether the training influenced attitudes, systematic social observations examined the impact on police behavior in the field, and nearby households were surveyed before and after the trainings to assess residents’ attitudes toward the police. Impacts on crime were measured using crime incident and citizen-initiated crime call data. Officers who took the procedural justice training were significantly more likely to give people voice, show neutrality, and demonstrate respectful behavior in observed interactions, while officers who took the shorter training were significantly more likely to engage in disrespectful behavior in their interactions on the street. In addition, officers who took the procedural justice training made 60% fewer arrests than their peers who did not take that training. Residents of high-crime areas were significantly less likely to perceive police as harassing or using unnecessary force, though the study did not find significant differences between the two conditions in public perceptions of procedural justice and police legitimacy. In addition, crime fell 14% in places where police officers took the procedural justice training. The authors conclude that intensive training in procedural justice can lead to more procedurally just behavior and less disrespectful treatment of people in high-crime areas. The study’s findings provide important guidance for police reform in a period of strong criticism of policing.