Institute Research by the Book

Institute Research by the Book

October 12, 2016 – Mirage of Police Reform, by Institute Director Rob Worden and Associate Director Sarah McLean, will be published by the University of California Press in 2017. Based on an Institute project conducted in the Schenectady and Syracuse police departments, the book argues that the relief for the current crisis in police-community relations that is promised by contemporary prescriptions for police reform is illusory. Worden and McLean challenge the proposition that the public would better trust the police, and feel a greater obligation to comply and cooperate with police, if police-citizen interactions were marked by higher levels of procedural justice by police.

They further maintain that the procedural justice model of reform, like a number of other police reforms, is likely to bear a weak connection to street-level practice by police; instead, they hold, police organizations are susceptible to the adoption of reforms that satisfy public demands but are not compatible with the work of the organization as officers define and understand it. “It’s not that reform is impossible,” Worden explains, “but proposed reforms have to be carefully assessed in terms of their practicality on the street, where police work is done.”

The ambiguities, uncertainties, and threats that police confront in dealing with people and their problems also arise in reform. McLean said that “the meaning and implications of reform are subject to interpretation by officers, and our research showed that ‘procedural justice’ and ‘customer service’ do not mean the same thing to all officers. For some officers and their supervisors, procedural justice is common sense. For others, a push for better customer service is a betrayal by the administration – it’s seen as putting the community ahead of officers.”

Worden points out that in both of the study departments, police performed well in terms of procedural justice and citizen satisfaction, leaving only a little room for improvement. In addition, the actions of officers did not readily translate into citizens’ perceptions. “For a sample of more than 400 police-citizen encounters about which we surveyed the citizens,” Worden said, “we had independent, trained observers code features of police officers’ and citizens’ behavior according to a structured protocol. We found that the procedural justice of officers’ actions bore a weak relationship to the judgments that citizens made about procedural justice. As previous research suggested, the procedural justice that citizens see is shaped by their prior attitudes toward police more than it is by the justice with which police act.”

The book will be available in conventional print form and, in addition, an e-book will be available free of charge. See

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