Recently, the U.S. Department of Justice Community Oriented Policing Services Office (COPS Office) released a report produced in partnership with PERF, the Police Executive Research Forum, which clearly defined a roadmap for any police chief to implement procedural justice programs in their community. The report “Implementing a Comprehensive Performance Management Approach in Community Policing Organizations: An Executive Guidebook,” is a must-read for every person committed to community policing.

This PERF and U.S. DOJ Report Is Not Gospel. (But It’s Close.)

This report takes decades of knowledge on community policing and incorporates the tenets of Procedural Justice into a thoughtful, clear roadmap for implementation of procedures designed to enhance community collaboration. In fact, after reviewing this document, any law enforcement leader would be hard pressed to find a reason why they are not implementing programs to enhance procedural justice in their own agency.

Don’t get me wrong: it is not a panacea for all the issues of law enforcement. Nor is it the silver bullet to stop the violence that is ravaging many of our communities. However, it is the most logical, thoughtful and professional approach today to rebuild the trust between some of our communities and the policing organizations that serve their citizens; especially the deep, pervasive and continuing loss of trust between the police and many minority communities. That is the most important purpose of police reform.

Respect as the Bedrock of Community Policing

Procedural justice relies on many of the same tenets that underlie major religions, our Constitution and actions and decisions we make in seeking a moral, principled life. By following the basic premise that all life – regardless of individual circumstances – deserves our respect, officers can establish a foundation of trust within communities struggling to overcome actual or perceived past injustice. Every sworn officer should be held accountable for placing an emphasis on the “sanctity of human life.”

In parts of society where respect and trust have traditionally held a quid pro quo relationship, the ability and willingness of police to take the first step in improving relationships is vital to building that foundation. This is the powerful part. The action “respect first” defines our moral compass as citizens, helps us set an example for one another, and reflects the basic principle that underlies the authority we vest in our police to curtail our freedom, in a constitutional manner, in order to enforce laws, ensure public safety, and prevent us from harming ourselves or others.

COPS and PERF describe the concept as “fairness, respect, voice, and transparency.” As further defined in the report, “…police should treat people neutrally, without favoritism or bias (fairness); they should treat community members with dignity (respect); they should allow community members to express their views or tell their side of a story (voice); and they should be clear and open in explaining what they do and why (transparency).

“Same Old, Same Old”

Right now you are probably thinking, “nothing new here” or “well I learned that in the first grade.” OK, it is not new, but it is clear and profound. The basic rule is so simple, it’s sometimes hard to understand why abiding by it is so difficult. Leaders must model the behavior they expect. Great leaders model good behaviors, and poor leaders model bad behaviors, not only to their agencies, but to their communities.

I can tell you I have encountered variations of poor leadership in more than a dozen of our recent assessments of police agencies, including substantially deficient agencies and also otherwise well-run organizations that don’t recognize the impact of their actions. This report has captured the fundamental essence of why some police departments excel and others seem to make one mistake after another: Internal Procedural Justice!

5 Questions We Must Ask and Answer

Whether you’re a chief, mayor or concerned citizen, we must ask and answer these five questions:

  1. Is your police department modeling the behavior you expect from your officers?
  2. Are your supervisors treating officers and their communities with respect?
  3. Do supervisors mentor and evaluate the appropriate behaviors?
  4. Are leaders, managers and supervisors the cops they want their cops to be?
  5. Does your police department embrace, as a core belief and tenet of its mission statement, an emphasis on the “sanctity of human life?”

Step one begins right there: define, model, mentor, evaluate and instill the behavior we expect. Procedural justice is the right direction for policing today, and the recommended methodology outlined in the roadmap sets achievable goals for lasting changes in police agency culture, attitudes and interactions with the communities whom they serve.

COPS and PERF go into much greater detail and provide a tremendous roadmap for implementation of these concepts. It does not matter if you are a police executive, beat cop, social activist or concerned citizen; if you want to understand the direction American policing needs to take and institutionalize, this is your first and primary reference. Download it here: http://ric-zai-inc.com/Publications/cops-p331-pub.pdf.