Achieving Fairness in Policing

Date01 March 2017
Published date01 March 2017
Subject MatterArticles
untitled Article
Police Quarterly
2017, Vol. 20(1) 3–23
Achieving Fairness
! The Author(s) 2016
Reprints and permissions:
in Policing: The Link
DOI: 10.1177/1098611116657818
Between Internal
and External
Procedural Justice
Maarten Van Craen1 and
Wesley G. Skogan2
Decades of research on public support for the police has documented the prominent
role of procedural justice in shaping popular views of police legitimacy and the pre-
disposition of citizens to comply and cooperate with them. However, much less
attention has been given to the issue of how to get police officers to actually act
in accord with its principles when they interact with the public. Reminders of the
importance and the difficulty of fostering police legitimacy are not hard to come by,
as witnessed in events in the United States during 2014 to 2015. This article
addresses the hard, multifaceted issue of fostering procedural justice in the ranks.
It theorizes and assesses the relationship between fair supervision and fair policing.
The results of our study indicate that perceived internal procedural justice is directly
related to support for external procedural justice (modeling thesis), and also indir-
ectly, via trust in citizens.
procedural justice, fairness, modeling, trust, supervision
1Leuven Institute of Criminology (LINC), University of Leuven, Hooverplein, Leuven, Belgium
2Institute for Policy Research, Northwestern University, Evanston, IL, USA
Corresponding Author:
Maarten Van Craen, Leuven Institute of Criminology (LINC), University of Leuven, Hooverplein 10,
3000 Leuven, Belgium.

Police Quarterly 20(1)
More than two decades of research on public support for the police has docu-
mented the prominent role of procedural justice in shaping citizens’ perceptions
of and reactions to the police. The role of procedural justice in shaping public
trust in the police, popular views of police legitimacy, and the predisposition of
citizens to comply and cooperate with them has been documented by studies
across countries (Jackson et al., 2012; Murphy, Mazerolle, & Bennett, 2014;
Sunshine & Tyler, 2003; Tankebe, 2008; Van Craen & Skogan, 2015a) and
among many ethnic groups (Jackson, Bradford, Stanko, & Hohl, 2013;
Murphy, 2013; Tyler, 2005; Van Craen & Skogan, 2015b; Warren, 2010).
However, much less attention has been given to the issue of how to get police
of‌f‌icers to actually act in accord with its principles when they interact with the
public. Reminders of the importance and the dif‌f‌iculty of fostering police legit-
imacy even in the most democratic societies are not hard to come by. Events in
the United States during 2014 to 2015 led to the creation of a Presidential Task
Force on police reform. Its f‌irst “Pillar 1” conclusion was that
people are more likely to obey the law when they believe that those who are
enforcing it have the legitimate authority to tell them what to do . . . The public
confers legitimacy only on those they believe are acting in procedurally just ways.
(President’s Task Force, 2015, p. 9)
The Task Force recommended that “law enforcement culture should embrace a
guardian mindset to build public trust and legitimacy” (p. 10). But being savvy,
the task force members later wisely noted that “organizational culture eats policy
for lunch” (p. 11). This article addresses the hard, multifaceted issue of fostering
procedural justice in the ranks. It examines the relationship between fair supervi-
sion (i.e., internal procedural fairness) and fair policing (i.e., external procedural
Procedural justice theory is a systematic way of thinking about legitimate
policing (Sunshine & Tyler, 2003; Tyler, 2005). The dimensions of procedurally
fair policing include neutrality (even-handedness in decision making and equal
treatment), voice (giving citizens an opportunity to tell their side of the story and
formulate suggestions about tackling problems), respect (treating citizens with
dignity and acting politely), and accountability (giving reasoned explanations for
the decisions of‌f‌icers have made). It seems likely that agencies will need to
employ a variety of organizational strategies to foster the actual application of
these principles by of‌f‌icers. Supervision and discipline would have to be part of
the mix, but their ef‌fectiveness would be contingent on somehow monitoring the
delivery of procedurally just—in addition to constitutionally allowable—service.
Police executives have long struggled to maintain control through supervision
and discipline because everything about policing makes monitoring of‌f‌icers’
actions on the street hard to penetrate (Skogan & Meares, 2004).

Van Craen and Skogan
The policies of the department are also important. Research indicates that
organizations that are not actually aligned to support what they say they want
their of‌f‌icers to do are not likely to get much accomplished. For example,
Mastrofski and Ritti (1996) found that getting of‌f‌icers to make drunk driving
arrests went more smoothly in places that had policies and practices in place
which supported and rewarded focusing on Driving under the inf‌luence (DUI)
cases. With regard to the application of procedural justice principles, we note
that organizations’ emphasis on ef‌f‌iciency in processing cases may reduce the
ability of of‌f‌icers to be fully procedurally fair in encounters with members of the
public. We also know from evaluations of use of force policies that certain types
of these policies are more ef‌fective than others in limiting the use of force and
reducing citizen injuries and complaints (Terrill, Paoline, & Ingram, 2011).
Training is another vehicle for shaping of‌f‌icer behavior. Skogan, Van Craen,
and Hennessy (2015) have shown that training of‌f‌icers in the principles of pro-
cedural justice can inf‌luence the views of of‌f‌icers both in an experimental setting
and longer term, once they have returned to the street. Wheller, Quinton, Fildes,
and Mills (2013) have reported broad-based evidence that procedural justice
training can inf‌luence both the views of of‌f‌icers and reports made by crime
victims about their behavior. Training is an attractive mechanism for fostering
procedural justice because it is an accepted organizational routine.
Research also suggests that fair policing may be linked to fair supervision.
There are indications that the relationship between internal and external pro-
cedural justice is mediated by of‌f‌icers’ self-legitimacy and compliance with
instructions and policies (Bradford & Quinton, 2014; Haas, Van Craen,
Skogan, & Fleitas, 2015). The relationship between fair supervision and fair
policing is also the subject of this article, yet we approach it from another per-
spective. Assuming indirect links through compliance and self-legitimacy are not
the only ways in which the relationship between internal and external procedural
fairness can be conceptualized. Building on recent theoretical work of Van Craen
(2016a, 2016b), we scrutinize in this article two alternative—possibly comple-
mentary—mechanisms that link internal and external procedural justice. The
f‌irst is supervisor modeling. When of‌f‌icers watch their supervisors engage in pro-
cedurally fair behaviors, they learn how they can engage in such behaviors
themselves and that those behaviors are expected, valued, rewarded, and ef‌fect-
ive. These perceptions may motivate of‌f‌icers to imitate their supervisors and
behave in a similar way. The second mechanism entails an indirect relationship
through trust in citizens. Frequent experiences of fair treatment by supervisors
may contribute to the belief among of‌f‌icers that most people can be trusted. This
belief is likely to facilitate just policing practices as well.
In the next sections, we further theorize these mechanisms and test hypotheses
that are derived from them. The testing is done using a structural equation
model f‌itted to data gathered among sworn members of the Chicago police
department. The results indicate that the mechanisms which are detailed in

Police Quarterly 20(1)
this article—supervisor modeling and indirect inf‌luence through trust in citizens—
have signif‌icant explanatory power. The f‌indings suggest that supervisors can
positively inf‌luence the way of‌f‌icers deal with citizens by providing good examples
and setting the right tone in their own leadership practices.
Supervisor Modeling
To achieve external procedural justice, Van Craen (2016a, 2016b) recently pro-
posed an approach dubbed fair policing from the inside out. This approach
emphasizes that perceptions of internal procedural justice stimulate police of‌f‌i-
cers to practice external procedural justice. More specif‌ically, Van Craen has
argued that the extent to which police of‌f‌icers’ behavior toward citizens is guided
by the principles of neutrality, respect, voice, and accountability depends on the
extent to which supervisors’ behavior toward their of‌f‌icers is characterized by
these principles. He identif‌ied supervisor modeling as a mechanism that may
explain this link. In this article, we discuss that mechanism more comprehen-
sively and test it empirically.
The supervisor modeling thesis draws on elements of social learning theory
(Bandura, 1971). This theory argues that most of the behaviors that people
display are learned through the inf‌luence of models. People learn how to
behave by observing and imitating other people’s behavior (which is called

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