Procedural Justice: How Do You Get It When You Want It?

There is a large body of research demonstrating the importance of procedural justice in shaping the legitimacy of police in the eyes of the public. The key dimensions of procedural justice include respect, voice, neutrality and trust. However, there has been almost no research at all regarding how police officers can be encouraged to incorporate the principles of procedural justice in their routine interactions with the public.

The Chicago Police Department chose a training strategy. A “Procedural Justice and Legitimacy Workshop” was developed locally, after consultation with experts (Tom Tyler and Tracey Meares) at the Yale Law School. Classes of about 25 officers met with teams of three trainers for day-long sessions at the Chicago Police Training Academy. From mid-2012 through September 2013, 8,700 serving officers, 230 new recruits, and many of the department’s civilian employees were trained in the principles of procedural justice and how to implement them.

Our research team conducted two studies evaluating this effort. The short-term effects study was a quasi-experimental test of the immediate effectiveness of the training conducted at the academy. We found that training increased officer support for all of the procedural justice dimensions included in the experiment: respect, voice, neutrality and trust. A longer-term effects study followed. It utilized the results of an in-person survey of 714 Police Officers (the lowest rank) and Sergeants officer survey that began mid-way through the training period. Officers who had already been sent to training were contrasted with a comparison group of officers who had not yet been sent to training. Statistical controls (including propensity scores) were used to increase confidence in the results of the long-term effects study. We found that officers who had attended the procedural justice workshop continued to be more supportive of three of the four procedural justice principles introduced in training, compared to officers who had not yet been sent to the Academy. The shortfall was the principle of trust, which was also the procedural justice dimension that gained the lowest level of support in the training experiment.

The results of this study just appeared in the Journal of Experimental Criminology; see Skogan, Van Craen and Hennessy, 2015. Readers wishing to review the training materials themselves should directly contact the Commander of the Chicago Police Training Division, 1300 W Jackson Blvd, Chicago, IL 60607, telephone +1.312.746.8310.

In broader scope, we know virtually nothing about the short or long-term effect associated with police training of any type. This is an area ripe for good research. In 2004 a committee commissioned by the US National Academy of Sciences to look into the state of policing in the United States found that there were “scarcely more than a handful of studies” on the effects of training, and that police training and education are currently being offered without scientific evidence of their likely effects. They concluded “[T]he committee cannot overstate the importance of developing a comprehensive and scientifically rigorous program to learn what is and is not effective in the education and training of police officers” (Skogan and Frydl, 2004: 154). Wheller and Morris’ (2010) review of research on training for the UK National Police Improvement Agency cast a very wide net, incorporating systematic studies of training for “professionals” of all kinds. They were looking for guidance, but did not find much outside the domain of clinical training for health professionals. Since, Wheller et al. (2013) (now at The College of Policing) released the findings of the best experimental study of procedural justice training to date. Officers from the Greater Manchester Police Service were randomly assigned to treatment or control groups in order to determine the impact of training on the perceived quality of interactions between the police and crime victims. The training program incorporated elements of procedural justice theory. The evaluation identified positive shifts on four of eight police attitudinal outcomes, and positive effects on trained officers’ scores in role-playing exercises. The perceptions of crime victims who later were served by trained and control-group officers also differed on some measures. The training and the evaluation methods used in this study are models of how to best to proceed in this area.


Wesley G. Skogan, Northwestern University, USA. Email 


Skogan, Wesley G. and Kathleen Frydl. 2004. Fairness and Effectiveness in Policing: The Evidence. Washington, DC: National Academies Press.

Skogan, Wesley G., Maarten Van Craen and Cari Hennessy. 2015. “Training Police in Procedural Justice,” Journal of Experimental Criminology, advance online publication January 2015.

Wheller, Levin and Julia Morris. 2010. Evidence Reviews: What Works in Training, Behaviour Change and Implementing Guidance. London: National Police Improvement Agency.

Wheller, Levin, Paul Quinton, Alistair Fildes and Andy Mills. 2013. The Greater Manchester Police Procedural Justice Training Experiment: Technical Report. London: The College of Policing.

One thought on “Procedural Justice: How Do You Get It When You Want It?

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