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Fair Treatment in Policing: Testing the Relationship Between Internal and External Procedural Justice

NCJ Number
Journal of Crime & Justice Volume: 43 Issue: 3 Dated: 2020 Pages: 393-408
Christopher M. Donner; David E. Olson
Date Published
16 pages
This study examined whether applying the principles of procedural justice within the management decision-making of a police organization makes it more likely that the officers in that organization will treat citizens in procedurally just ways.
Recently, several highly publicized and troubling police-citizen encounters around the United States have led many to question not only police tactics, but also, more broadly, police legitimacy. These events, among others, led President Obama to create a Task Force on 21st Century Policing. Part of its focus was on fostering legitimacy through procedurally just policing practices. In fact, one of its recommendations to police departments to strengthen their policing practices through the principles of procedural justice - and thereby increasing their external legitimacy - is to promote legitimacy internally by applying those same procedural justice principles within the organization. Part of the reasoning behind this thinking is that officers will be more likely to treat citizens in procedurally just ways if they themselves are treated in procedurally just ways within their organization's decision-making processes. To test this assertion, the current study analyzed survey data from 113 officers from the Rockford (IL) Police Department. Multivariate regression results suggest that officers who perceive fair treatment in their own organization are more likely to indicate that they apply the same fairness when interacting with citizens. Specific findings, study limitations, and policy implications are discussed. (publisher abstract modified)