Study shows positive impact of ‘procedural justice’ police training  

DESPITE WIDESPREAD EMBRACE by police departments of various approaches to officer training, there is remarkably little firm evidence on the impact of schooling law enforcement personnel on everything from dealing with implicit bias to de-escalation techniques. What’s more, amid fears about rising crime levels in many US cities, there has been concern that some reform-minded changes in policing could come at the expense of controlling crime. 

That makes the results of a new study of policing in three US cities, including Cambridge, all the more noteworthy. In one of the first rigorous analyses of training in “procedural justice,” which aims to have police officers treat residents more fairly, the study found that the training led to better interactions with residents, fewer arrests, and a reduction in crime. 

“There’s a kind of rhetoric going on right now that suggests that police reform and police effectiveness are somehow in opposition to each other. Our study suggests we can focus on police reform and be successful at it and that won’t harm the crime control effectiveness of police and, indeed, enhances it,” said David Weisburd, a professor of criminology, law, and society at George Mason University, who led the study.

The researchers looked at 120 crime “hot spots,” 40 such locations in each of three US cities: Houston; Tucson, Arizona; and Cambridge. They randomly divided a group of 28 officers who patrol those areas to either receive 40 hours of intensive training in “procedural justice,” an approach to policing that emphasizes “fair and respectful treatment of people by police,” or to receive four hours of training in hot-spot policing and data collection. The hallmarks of procedural justice interactions include “giving voice, showing neutrality, treating people with dignity and respect, and evidencing trustworthy motives,” according to the study.

Trained observers, who were not told which group officers had been assigned to, rode along on patrols to record information on their interactions with residents. The study found that officers assigned to procedural justice training were significantly more likely to give people “voice,” show neutrality, and demonstrate respectfulness in interactions with the public. On the measure of showing “trustworthy motives,” the findings did not achieve statistical significance, but were in the direction of positive benefits. Meanwhile, interactions involving officers in the “standard condition” group who received only a half-day training in hot-spot policing were significantly more likely to include disrespectful behavior. 

In the hot spots patrolled by officers receiving procedural justice training, there were 60 percent fewer arrests and a 14 percent reduction in crime compared with hot spots receiving “standard condition” policing. Surveys of residents showed those in areas receiving standard patrols were significantly more likely to say police harassed people on their street or used “more force than necessary.” 

Despite concerns about rising crime rates in many US cities, the results argue against the idea that “making fewer arrests is going to make crime skyrocket in these locations,” said Cody Telep, an associate professor in the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Arizona State University and a co-author of the study. 

Telep said the findings seem to “fit it well” with research released a year ago showing that a reduction in prosecution of some misdemeanor offenses in Suffolk County was associated with fewer subsequent arraignments of those individuals.

In the new policing study, there were, overall, many fewer arrests in the 40 Cambridge hot spots than in the 40 targeted locations in both Houston and Tucson. Nevertheless, the paper said the crime reduction trend appeared to be even stronger in Cambridge than in the other two cities.

Cambridge police officials are scheduled to receive a full briefing on the study findings later this month, and they declined to comment on the report until they see disaggregated data from the three individual cities.  

Weisburd, who also holds an appointment at the Institute of Criminology at Hebrew University in Israel, said some of the recent debate over policing has become unnecessarily polarized. He said concern about crime has prompted some to say we need to ignore reform strategies, while some advocates of police reform or “defunding” of departments have expressed little concern over police effectiveness or crime rates. 

Weisburd said the new study shows both sides have it wrong. “This is very good news for police if we’re looking for things that reduce friction between the police and public and improve the way police behave with the public and at the same time do something about crime problems,” he said. 

MICHAEL JONAS

FROM COMMONWEALTH

 

Condolences offered: Halfway through its monthly meeting, a safety subcommittee of the MBTA board offered public condolences to the families of Robinson Lalin and Peter Monsini. Lalin died after his arm was caught in the door of a Red Line train and Monsin was killed when a garage he was helping to demolish collapsed. Read more.

Hospital aid: The state is seeking $600 million a year in additional hospital aid with a Robin Hood Medicaid plan. Read more.

Senate approves climate bill: The Senate passes its version of a climate bill, along with an amendment doubling the size of the state’s offshore wind procurements over the next decade. Read more.

UI relief: The Baker administration offers significant relief to Massachusetts residents who received more money from unemployment insurance than they were entitled to. Read more.

OPINION

Don’t forget home health: In the current Beacon Hill debate over health care, Joseph P. McDonough of Innovive says home health care deserves attention. Read more.

 

FROM AROUND THE WEB

 

BEACON HILL

The Baker administration unveiled a plan to provide full or partial relief to about 70 percent of the $2.3 billion in pandemic relief overpayments. (Boston Globe

Cape and islands officials push back against legislation dealing with the Steamship Authority filed by their representatives on Beacon Hill. (Cape Cod Times)

A bill allowing undocumented immigrants to get driver’s licenses is hung up in the state Senate, despite broad support for the measure in the chamber. (Boston Globe

MUNICIPAL MATTERS  

Pittsfield Mayor Linda Tyer awards $5.9 million in ARPA funds to 18 community organizations for programs dealing with  child care, housing, education, arts programs, and supportive services for people recently released from prison or struggling with substance use disorders. (Berkshire Eagle)

Boston releases the job description for its police commissioner search, a write-up that leans more heavily on leadership qualities than policing background. (Boston Herald

Pittsfield’s board of health issues a cease and desist order to Verizon in a bid to shut off a cell tower that neighbors have complained about. (Berkshire Eagle)

HEALTH/HEALTH CARE

A study finds that education level is a much stronger predictor than race of whether someone has been vaccinated against COVID. (Boston Globe

COVID cases are on the rise again. (Salem News) COVID cases among students rose by 44 percent last week, to 4,000. (MassLive)

Workers at the Saugus Rehabilitation and Nursing Center stage a 24-hour strike over low wages, and US Rep. Seth Moulton accuses the facility of violating state law. (Daily Item)

The Food and Drug Administration has approved the first breath test for COVID. It is able to detect the virus within three minutes with a high degree of accuracy, the agency said. (New York Times

ELECTIONS

Lame duck Gov. Charlie Baker said he’ll skip next month’s state Republican convention in Springfield. (Boston Herald) Globe columnist Scot Lehigh says both state parties should do away with the gatherings. 

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

Eversource pays Springfield $41 million to resolve a decade-long property tax dispute. (MassLive)

EDUCATION

Two sets of parents file a federal lawsuit against Ludlow School officials over their gender identity policy, which lets transgender or gender fluid students change their names or pronouns without their parents’ knowledge. (MassLive)

Northeastern University is launching the new Burnes Center for Social Change with a $20 million gift from the family of the late Superior Court judge Nonnie Burnes. (Boston Globe)

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

Gov. Charlie Baker visits Lawrence to award $8 million in Green Community grants. (Eagle-Tribune)

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

A year after the death of 16-year-old Hopkinton resident Mikayla Miller, the Middlesex DA’s office has yet to close the book on what the state medical examiner ruled was a suicide. (Boston Globe) Last June, two months after Miller’s death, CommonWealth detailed what was known about the case, an account to which there is little new information to add. 

PASSINGS

Leonard Alkins, the former head of the Boston NAACP, died at age 77. (Boston Globe)