Procedural justice principles are compatible with
effective crimefighting, according to a study by the Center for Evidence-Based
Crime Policy at George Mason University, according to The Crime Report.
Researchers found that crime significantly declined
in high-risk neighborhoods where police were trained to use principles that
focus on treating people fairly and with respect.
“Police can simultaneously focus on reform and crime
reduction,” they concluded.
The conclusion, which many reform advocates might
have considered self-evident a few years ago, is arguably controversial in some
quarters now, when rising crime rates have triggered calls for a return to more
muscular policing amid a backlash against reforms.
The study, published in the Fall 2022 edition
of Translational Criminology, summed up the findings of a three-city
research project conducted in at-risk neighborhoods in Houston, Cambridge,
Mass., and Tucson.
The idea was to test two different ways of carrying
out hot-spot policing, a strategy introduced in many cities as a more
sophisticated targeted approach to crimefighting. Rather than saturate an
entire community with law enforcement, officers would be assigned to streets or
sections of a neighborhood where statistics showed crime was high.
Hot-spot policing produced a high volume of arrests,
but it also generated hostility in communities that considered they were being
In particular, one of the essential pillars of
policing reform—the need for gaining trust and therefore legitimacy among the
people who were being policed—often was absent.
“While there is evidence that proactive policing can
effectively reduce crime in hot spots, there are concerns that intensive
crime-fighting strategies could have negative effects on police trust,” the
“More generally, there has been a growing narrative
that practitioners must choose between reform and police effectiveness.”
The authors wanted to test whether applying
procedural justice principles undermined the “hot spot” policing approach.
Procedural justice focuses on treating people with dignity and respect, even
through comparatively minor details like taking an extra 10 minutes to speak to
a community resident who has a problem or complaint.
Patrol officers in each of the targeted cities were
separated in two teams. Both teams were assigned to high-crime neighborhoods.
One of the teams was given 40 hours of training on procedural justice, and
instructed to incorporate “procedural justice into every interaction they had
while present in their hot spots, whether it was a casual conversation, a
traffic stop, or an arrest.”
Over a nine-month period, which encompassed
observing 400 hours of officer behavior, the study found that hot spots where
officers had practiced procedural justice principles
“had about 14 percent fewer crime incidents.”
“Importantly,” the study added. “This crime decline
came despite procedural justice officers making fewer arrests during the
Officers made more than 60 percent fewer arrests
than officers in other hot spots who weren’t trained in procedural justice.
The study said behavior of the different police
teams in those hot spot areas was “significantly” different.
Those trained in procedural justice “were
significantly more likely to give citizens a voice, demonstrate neutrality, and
treat people with dignity and respect. They were also significantly less likely
to be disrespectful.”
And it produced a change in community-police
relations as well. Residents of blocks where procedural justice team had been
working were less likely to complain about police harassment or excessive use
The researchers acknowledged that success in
introducing procedural justice concepts into real-world policing depended on a
number of key factors, including systematic monitoring and supervision.
“We…worked closely with sergeants and supervisors at
each site to help reinforce training concepts and encourage the use of
procedural justice in the field,” the researchers wrote. “Without this
reinforcement and departmental support, we suspect the impacts of training in
the field will be much more limited.”
But the authors of the study said their findings
offered an alternative to the increasingly prevalent view among tough-on-crime
advocates that “soft” justice reforms endangered public safety.
“Fairness and effectiveness are not competing
goals,” they repeated, adding that the results of the study are “especially important
in the current environment, where violent crime is rising in many large
The lead author of the study is David Weisburd,
distinguished professor in the Department of Criminology, Law and Society at
George Mason University and Executive Director of the Center for Evidence-Based
Other authors of the study, entitled, Incorporating
Procedural Justice into Hot Spots Policing: Lessons from a
Multicity Randomized Trial, included:
Anthony Braga, Jerry Lee Professor of Criminology
and Director of the Crime and Justice Policy Lab in the Department of
Criminology at the University of Pennsylvania;
Cody Telep, an associate professor and
Associate School Director in the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice at
Arizona State University;
Brandon Turchan,, doctoral candidate in the School
of Criminal Justice at Rutgers University and a research fellow at the Crime
and Justice Policy Lab at the University of Pennsylvania;
Heather Vovak, a research scientist at the
Metropolitan Police Department in Washington, DC.; and
Taryn Zastrow, a doctoral student in the Department
of Criminology, Law and Society and a graduate research assistant at the Center
for Evidence-Based Crime Policy at George Mason University.
The project was supported by Arnold Ventures.
To download the Fall edition of Translational
Criminology where the study appears, please
This summary was prepared by TCR executive editor
To read more CLICK HERE