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Using Procedural Justice to Improve Community Relations

Michael Davis

Michael Davis, Director of Public Safety at Northeastern University, discusses the concept of procedural justice and how it can be integrated into policing operations to improve community relations and address crime challenges.

In this video, Michael Davis, Director of Public Safety at Northeastern University, discusses the concept of procedural justice and how it can be integrated into policing operations to improve community relations and address crime challenges.

I really spoke about two things related to procedural justice. One, is how to really institute it into organizations. A lot of times we talk a lot about theories. A lot about new ideas. But very little about the conditions by which those ideas can be applied within organizations. In this case it’s really about making sure that procedural justice, or the tenets of it, the experience of it, exist within a police organization. How are people being treated? How do they perceive they are being treated? And are we really getting the most out of our officers, in terms of leveraging their strengths, talents, and abilities? That was the first half of what I said. The second was about really defining what procedural justice is at its core, which is really us believing that everyone has equal and intrinsic value. When you a start with that premise, things just flow a little bit better. The idea of it makes a lot more sense. And it explains a lot in communities. It explains a lot in police organizations because what we mean by equal and intrinsic value is not just you as a human being, what you mean here on earth, but it’s really about your value to society, your value to an organization. It’s that perception that I think shapes a lot of decisions and a lot of encounters, both inside an organization and out.

How can other jurisdictions apply principles of procedural justice?

The idea as I mention today is that you begin with the philosophical premise that everyone has equal and intrinsic value. You start there. And you also start with the philosophical premise that police alone can’t solve the issue of crime. That it has to be one that is collectively addressed, by understanding the conditions in which crime exists and then working collaboratively to address those conditions. And so this is a means in which to do that. If the question is how do we connect with the community, you do it leveraging the principles of procedural justice.

And that means every single encounter is an opportunity to build trust, even if you’re making an arrest, even if you’re dealing with someone on their worse possible day, that is an exceptional opportunity, and that’s the point. So, if you believe that people have equal and intrinsic value both inside the organization and out, you use the tools of procedural justice and you engage people in that manner and you see the goal is addressing those conditions that contribute to crime and disorder, you’re going to see that police departments have a higher level of effectiveness. That’s what we are talking about. Procedural justice is not something that is ancillary to policing. It’s not something that you do in addition to the other real police work. It is actually defining our effectiveness. It’s enabling us to be more effective in our rightful role in this country, and that’s the way it needs to be viewed.

What does the future of policing look like to you?

I believe that the future of policing has to be firmly rooted in understand what our role is rightfully, and I believe it’s to protect this democracy, and other people have made this same statement. But it’s also a right to create a better community. Our role is not simply to go about the task of administering law enforcement. That to me is a disconnect. If people believe that our role is to go about the perfunctory task of responding to 911 calls, then we’re missing the point. What procedural justice and the whole notion of police legitimacy has brought to the forefront of the conversation is addressing what it is that we’re actually here to do, and that is to create the conditions in which people can feel safer, feel more secure, to go about their lives in creating a life for themselves that they want in this free country.

That’s really the core of it, and law enforcement is one tool. We need to leverage the fact that we have influence based upon our standing in the community to bring people together, have those conversations, and have people to come together to create something that didn’t exist before. Create the neighborhood watch. Create the new juvenile program. Create the new way to address daytime burglaries. Name your issue. The community needs to play a substantive role in each one of those things. The question always is how do we make that happen, especially if we are working in a community by which there’s low levels of police community interaction in a positive way. You do that by leveraging the tenets of procedural justice by ensuring that every single interaction is done in a procedural, just way. That becomes a foundation.

Date Created: June 1, 2016