Thursday, June 15, 2017

Robert E. Worden & Sarah McLean's "Mirage of Police Reform"

Robert E. Worden is Director of the John F. Finn Institute for Public Safety and Associate Professor of Criminal Justice at the University at Albany, SUNY. Sarah J. McLean is Associate Director and Director of Research and Technical Assistance at the John F. Finn Institute for Public Safety.

They applied the “Page 99 Test” to their new book, Mirage of Police Reform: Procedural Justice and Police Legitimacy, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Mirage of Police Reform begins a brief summary of the reasons for citizens’ dissatisfaction with their recent contacts with police. We surveyed rolling samples of people who called police for assistance, were stopped by police, or were arrested. The survey included items for which respondents selected one among several possible answers, and most citizens were satisfied with their contact. But those who were dissatisfied could tell us why, in their own words. Their explanations, and the numerical data from all of the interviews, were consistent with social psychological theory holding that people evaluate their experiences with authority figures not only in terms of the outcomes that they receive but also their perceptions of the process: whether they are treated respectfully and given an opportunity to explain their situations, and whether they believe that decisions were based on facts and taking into account the citizen’s welfare. This theory has informed a contemporary prescription for police reform: if police officers acted with greater procedural justice in their day-to-day interactions with the public, levels of public trust and police “legitimacy” would rise.

With this theoretical premise we worked with two police departments to form monthly survey-based measures of citizens’ judgments about procedural justice and make them available to police managers through the departments’ management accountability systems. We supposed that, as Peter Drucker observed, what gets measured gets managed – that procedural justice would be better managed and hence improve. We were mistaken, at least in part, on two counts.

First, police departments are institutionalized organizations whose structures are only “loosely-coupled” with street-level policing, notwithstanding their image as quasi-military bureaucracies, such that the administrative commitment of their chiefs to customer service was not readily translated into officers’ behavior. We found a continuum of management with respect to procedural justice, from actively supportive to passively supportive to indifferent to hostile. We also found a continuum of resistance among officers.

Second, we quantified officers’ actions in the police-citizen encounters by reviewing audio and video recordings, and we found that the procedural justice of police action was weakly related to citizens’ judgments. Police seldom acted with procedural injustice, but when they did, it detracted somewhat from citizens’ subjective experience. When police acted with greater procedural justice, it had little detectable effect on citizens’ judgments. Improving the procedural justice with which officers exercise their authority, then, would do little to improve public trust and legitimacy.
Learn more about Mirage of Police Reform the University of California Press.

--Marshal Zeringue