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Promoting Officer Integrity Through Early Engagement and Procedural Justice

Academics have long argued that the use of procedural justice is a necessary component of effective policing. While few practitioners would argue that treating citizens fairly and respectfully is not important, there is scant evidence on how the goals of procedural justice can be implemented in a practical way, and even less evidence that training officers to “listen and explain with equity and dignity” actually translates into quantifiable improvements in field outcomes that policy makers care about. 

This experimental evaluation of a training program is aimed at promoting the use of procedural justice by officers in the Seattle Police Department. The innovation of the proposed training program is twofold. First, we apply insights from criminology and statistics to develop a new kind of early intervention system, which we call a High-Risk Circumstance (HRC) model. This model identifies officers working in behavioral hot spots, small geographic areas where police officers are more likely to be involved in problematic citizen encounters. Our HRC model will be calibrated using geographically identified incident level data from 2009 collected by the Seattle Police Department.

Estimated parameters from the HRC model will be used to identify officers with a higher predicted risk of being involved in a potentially problematic encounter, based upon observed data on their actual citizen encounters in two-week intervals over the course of six months. Every two weeks, officers identified by our HRC model will be randomly assigned to either a control group or an experimental engagement, the second innovation of our study. In the experimental engagement, officers will be trained in procedural justice techniques in two ways. 

Using the control and engagement groups, we will evaluate the impact that procedural justice training has on a number of outcomes that are of interest to practitioners and academics alike, including officer safety, use of force, citizen complaints, the number and composition of arrests made by the officers, as well as the use of warnings and citations as dispositions, rather than arrests. At the conclusion of the analysis, we will be able to provide new quantifiable evidence on the benefit, or lack thereof, of spending time and resources to train officers to use procedural justice.        

This research approach will allow us to: (1) develop an EIS system that draws from recent criminological insights about behavioral hot spots, and is likely to identify officers before problematic behaviors emerge; (2) test the effectiveness of a practical strategy that departments can use to promote the use of procedural justice; (3) measure the effect of procedural justice on policing using quantifiable field outcomes, rather than inherently subjective self reports by the officer;  and (4) foster further partnership between researchers and police professionals.