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Explaining Procedural Justice During Police-Suspect Encounters: A Systematic Social Observation Study

NCJ Number
John D. McCluskey; Michael Reisig
Date Published
13 pages
The purpose of this study was to develop and test a series of hypotheses regarding the use of procedurally just policing during suspect encounters.
This study proposes a series of hypotheses regarding the use of procedurally just policing during suspect encounters; and it suggests that the police treat lower-class individuals differently, which could potentially be evidence of bias in the application of procedural justice. Systematic social observation data from police encounters with suspects were used (N=939). Ordinary least-squares regression models were estimated to evaluate the effects of four variable clusters (i.e. suspect self-presentation, situational factors, suspect social characteristics, and officer characteristics) on procedurally just policing practices. Findings from the regression models indicate that the most salient predictors of police officers exercising authority in a procedurally just manner include the level of self-control displayed by suspects, the number of citizen onlookers, whether the encounter involved a traffic problem, the race/ethnicity of suspects, and suspects' social status. This study involved only police-suspect encounters where compliance requests by police were made. Although the size of the sample was relatively large, the results from this study cannot be generalized to all types of police encounters with members of the public. This research adds to an emerging body of research focused on predicting procedurally just practices in police encounters. The findings support increased attention to theories that explain police-citizen interactions; and it also indicates that further consideration of the measurement of police behavior is warranted. (Publisher abstract modified)