Justice Collaboratory’s Research Highlighted in Evaluation of Fair Policing Initiative

An initiative to promote fairer policing practices that draws from research by The Justice Collaboratory at Yale Law School shows some promise in improving policing culture but more change is needed when it comes to community trust of the police, an evaluation of the program in six cities by the Urban Institute has found.

In a series of reports released on August 8, 2019, the Urban Institute examines the National Initiative for Building Community Trust and Justice, launched by the U.S. Department of Justice in 2014 to promote more equitable, just, and respectful policing practices and improve relationships and trust between law enforcement and community members. The initiative consisted of officer training, departmental policy changes, and community engagement “designed to repair and strengthen police-community relationships by addressing the deep historical roots of distrust in the police among people of color and other marginalized populations.” Police departments participated in six cities: Birmingham, Alabama; Fort Worth, Texas; Gary, Indiana; Minneapolis, Minnesota; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; and Stockton, California.

John Jay College of Criminal Justice’s National Network for Safe Communities led the initiative in partnership with the Center for Policing Equity, The Justice Collaboratory, and the Urban Institute. The Justice Collaboratory, directed by Walton Hale Hamilton Professor of Law Tracey Meares and Macklin Fleming Professor of Law Tom Tyler, played an instrumental role in disseminating research, best practices, and training on the use of procedural justice to improve police trust with the communities they serve. Procedural justice focuses on the way police interact with the public, and how the characteristics of those interactions shape the public’s views of the police, their willingness to obey the law, and actual crime rates. 

Perhaps the most important finding from the evaluation, according to the Urban Institute, is that police leadership is critical to the program’s success. Some departments in the pilot program implemented changes more than others, an unevenness fueled by leadership changes, the evaluation found. Four of the six pilot departments had a change in leadership during the implementation period, the report noted, and turnover in chiefs is common in U.S. police departments.

Training police in procedural justice and implicit bias was a significant accomplishment of the program, the evaluation found. Surveys of police who were trained indicated that officers “bought into” the message. However, providing that training requires significant department and personnel resources.

The report saw some improvement in community perceptions of the police in the pilot cities, a finding deemed “very promising.” However, views of police and police legitimacy remained largely negative in the neighborhoods most affected by crime and disadvantage.

Making causal claims about the program was difficult, the report cautioned, due to an “alarming dearth” of reliable administrative data. Police departments serious about effecting change must make data collection a priority, the report concluded.

As part of the National Initiative for Building Community Trust & Justice last year, The Justice Collaboratory released Principles of Procedurally Just Policing, a set of practical guidelines aimed at incorporating procedural justice into policing practices. Written for an audience of policy-makers and policing executives, these guidelines are meant to aid departments in adapting and developing policies that will strengthen trust from the communities they serve. The guidelines translate research into goals and policies police departments can implement.

The Justice Collaboratory brings together an interdisciplinary group of scholars and researchers at Yale University and elsewhere to work on issues related to institutional reform and policy innovation and advancement. The Collaboratory infuses theory and empirical research to achieve the goal of making the components of criminal justice operation simultaneously more effective, just, and democratic.