The push for police reform after after the 2020 murder of George Floyd has focused on police behavior in encounters with the public, particularly addressing complaints about police treatment of people in high-crime areas. While there is evidence that proactive policing can effectively reduce crime in 'hot spots' there are concerns that intensive crime-fighting strategies could have negative effects on trust in police. A new study shows that police can simultaneously focus on reform and crime reduction, report criminologist David Weisburd of George Mason University and several colleagues in Translational Criminology. The study considered whether crime hot spots that are patrolled by officers who are trained to use procedural justice in interactions with the public would show evidence of effective police reform without a loss of crime control effectiveness. Procedural justice focuses on fair treatment, showing neutrality, treating people with dignity and respect, and demonstrating trustworthy motives.
A three-city randomized controlled trial with the Tucson, Cambridge, and Houston assigned eight or 12 patrol officers for a nine-month intervention period. In 40 high-crime residential street segments in each city. Surveys in each site suggested that training in procedural justice was associated with improved officer attitudes toward the concept. The study found that trained officers were significantly more likely to give citizens a voice, demonstrate neutrality, and treat people with dignity and respect. They were also significantly less likely to be disrespectful. Telephone surveys with people who had recent police contact with project officers perceived the interaction as significantly fairer and were more likely to report that officers were neutral decision makers and showed care and concern. Procedural justice hot spots had about 14 percent fewer crime incidents during the study relative to standard hot spots. The crime decline came despite procedural justice officers making fewer arrests during the intervention. Trained officers made more than 60 percent fewer arrests than untrained officers.