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Another Voice: ’Procedural justice’ adds to police legitimacy

By Patrick Oliver

It appears we are at a crisis point – and the highest level of tension between police and minority populations in our history – with the deadly shooting of police officers in Dallas last week. This is especially true if these shootings are related to a perceived lack of equity, and how they are treated by police among some segments of the minority community, particularly African-Americans.   

As a peace officer, I believe it’s important for citizens to understand that the mission of policing is ultimately community order maintenance with three strategic objectives: safety/service, conflict management and law enforcement. Public safety and crime prevention are also the responsibility of the community. Police are hired to give full-time attention to a responsibility shared by every citizen. Therefore, police officers must engage the community in a partnership to prevent, reduce and solve crime.

Law enforcement is a noble profession. Those serving in this profession deserve the community’s respect and support.

Police are most effective when they work in partnership with the community, versus working apart from the community. This is difficult to do if police are perceived as lacking legitimacy in a segment of the minority community.

An effective method to increase community perceptions of legitimacy is through the use of “procedural justice.”

The process of procedural justice comprises four essential components: community members from all segments participating in the proceedings prior to an authority reaching a decision; community members perceiving those in authority having neutrality in making decisions; community members perceiving those in authority demonstrating dignity and respect to individuals, and those in authority conveying trustworthy motives, particularly during law enforcement intervention.

Procedural justice must be managed by instituting police accountability. A key community question is, who is holding police accountable for their actions?

There are two levels of police accountability. First is holding the police agency accountable for the actions and performance of its officers. Second is holding the individual officer accountable for his/her actions. The most effective accountability occurs at the agency level, and not the legislative or judicial level.

Procedural justice must be effectively managed by government executives overseeing the police function. When this occurs, community members perceive they are full partners in the mission of policing, which is a requirement of true public safety in a local jurisdiction.

Patrick Oliver, Ph.D., is the director of the Criminal Justice Program at Cedarville University in Cedarville, Ohio.