UC Press is proud to be part of the Association of University Press’s seventh annual University Press Week, whose overall theme this year is #TurnItUP: The university press community amplifies voices, disciplines, and communities. Today’s theme is “Politics.” We encourage you to also visit our fellow university presses blogging today: University of Chicago PressGeorgetown University PressTeachers College PressUniversity of Wisconsin PressUniversity of Virginia PressRutgers University PressUBC PressLSU Press, and University Press of Kansas.


This guest post is part of the ASC blog series published in conjunction with the meeting of the American Society of Criminology conference in Atlanta from November 14 – 17. #ASCATL18

By Robert E. Worden and Sarah J. McClean, authors of Mirage of Police Reform: Procedural Justice and Police Legitimacy

The reform of the Chicago Police Department (CPD) has been national news since late-2015, when the recording of Laquan McDonald’s death at the hands of CPD’s Jason Van Dyke was released. The Department of Justice (DOJ) conducted an investigation, coming to the predictable conclusion that CPD engaged in a pattern or practice of civil rights violations. The department and the city initiated a series of changes, but many see the greatest promise of reform in the consent decree negotiated by Chicago’s mayor and the Illinois Office of the Attorney General (OAG), currently in draft form. The OAG’s website asserts that, “A consent decree requiring effective, lasting reforms is the only way to begin to build trust between Chicago’s residents and police.

Procedural justice is featured in the consent decree, though CPD was no stranger to the concept. To the contrary, CPD rolled out procedural justice training years ago – training that was considered by some an “industry standard.” In 2015, CPD even planned to implement “RespectStat” to measure procedural justice (through citizen surveys) in order to promote accountability for how officers treated citizens. The consent decree adds a logical but heretofore missing element, recognizing the crucial role of supervisors, who are to “establish and enforce the expectation that members under their command perform their duties in a manner that … is consistent with the principles of procedural justice, de-escalation, impartial policing, and community policing” (p. 98).

The effectiveness of the training and supervision in building public trust rests on three premises: that (1) officers will practice procedural justice to a greater degree than they do presently, such that (2) people’s judgments about their individual contacts with the police improve, and consequently (3) broader attitudes about the CPD change for the better. There are good reasons to doubt these premises. The disconnect between officers’ actions and citizens’ judgments is a major reason. That many officers already practice procedurally just policing is another reason. That some officers and supervisors do not buy into procedural justice as a priority is yet another. Metrics are one obstacle to managing procedurally just policing: surveys measure not officers’ performance but citizens’ perceptions, and no other reliable measure of procedural justice in practice exists.

The consent decree represents a very ambitious reform agenda, covering recruitment, hiring, training, supervision, complaint investigation and resolution, and policies governing use of force, crisis intervention, and impartial policing; it also provides for the resurrection of what was once – 15 years ago – an impressive community policing initiative. Organizational change on so many levels is a daunting challenge. New or revised policies are likely to be implemented insofar as they are compatible with the demands of working the street; if not, they are liable to be only loosely-coupled (or uncoupled) with street-level practice. And like the reforms wrought in other departments through consent decrees, we might well wonder whether the changes can be sustained. The reform optics will please external stakeholders, however, and a reprise of Chicago’s community policing initiative could achieve some notable gains in safety and public attitudes.


See Robert and Sarah at their Author Meets Critic session for the Mirage of Police Reform on Thursday, Nov 15, 9:30 to 10:50am, Marriott, M102, Marquis Level.

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