In his blog – Procedural Justice – The Single Most Promising Practice in Policing Today – Ken Bouche commented that some of the procedural justice concepts under discussion today are things we learned in first grade. The basic rule of procedural justice is so simple that, as Ken noted, “It’s sometimes hard to understand why abiding by it is so difficult.”

Learning From the Least-Likely Places

As I was browsing through my bookshelf recently, I encountered a book I read some time ago: Robert Fulghum’s All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten. Leafing through Fulghum’s essays, I began to think that maybe Ken is right and the concepts of procedural justice reflect the lessons we all learned as children.

Child’s Play and the Four Pillars of Procedural Justice

Examining Fulghum’s credo, I considered how his advice applied to law enforcement and the four pillars of procedural justice: fairness, impartiality, giving voice and transparency. Fulghum’s lessons that seem directly on point include:

  • Play fair. We learned when we were small to be honest and play by the rules. The Final Report of the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing emphasizes how effective policing is dependent on fairness within police departments and their interactions and engagement with the public.
  • Share everything. This sounds like transparency to me. In the context of procedural justice, transparency means openness about rules and procedures and how decisions are made. Sharing all law enforcement information is not possible due to privacy concerns, but informing community members about law enforcement policies and practices is a key element of earning trust.
  • Don’t hit people. The Task Force’s report recommends that law enforcement agencies “have clear and comprehensive policies on the use of force (including training on the importance of de-escalation).” Some situations require physical force, but officers throughout the country are finding ways to de-escalate situations and avoid the need to use force.
  • Live a balanced life. I look to this concept as supportive of the wellness of officers who risk their lives every day in the interest of public safety. The Task Force’s report recognizes that the “wellness and safety of law enforcement officers is critical not only to themselves, their colleagues and their agencies but also to public safety.” Officers and community members alike benefit when law enforcement officials live a balanced life.
  • Say you’re sorry when you hurt someone. The Task Force encourages law enforcement agencies to “acknowledge the role of policing in past and present injustice and discrimination and how it is a hurdle to the promotion of community trust.” The report does not necessarily tell police departments to apologize, but instead shows how acknowledging past wrongdoing can go a long way towards building trust.

Certainly, kindergarten was a simpler time. Life as an adult is complex. Community members and law enforcement officers face serious challenges in pursuing more just outcomes of law enforcement actions. However, it strikes me that applying the basic kindergarten lessons we learned on the playground or in the sandbox – fairness, sharing, de-escalating conflict where possible and being sensitive to others’ feelings – can help us do a better job of abiding by the basic rules of procedural justice.