A Procedural Justice Checklist for Police Supervisors

In a curriculum I am working on for the Mass. Municipal Justice Training Council on procedural justice and police legitimacy, I had the idea to apply Dr. Atul Gawande’s very practical method of checklists.  Gawande adapted an idea  from the  airline industry — where the use of cockpit checklists has contributed to a much-improved safety record — to the hospital operating room.  In few places outside the cockpit are the stakes higher nor the procedures more technologized than in the operating theater.

Checklists help the healers to ensure they are slicing into the right patient in the right place for the right reason.  They also help break down the barriers to effective communication that developed from the surgeon-as-God mentality of the past 160 years of professional medicine.  Cockpits suffered the same problem.  Staff respected the Captain to death.  Nurses can simply consult the checklist and not have to worry about getting punished for suggesting The Surgeon not amputate Mrs. O’Malley’s healthy leg.

In The Checklist Manifesto, Atul Gawande wrote,

“Four generations after the first aviation checklists went into use, a lesson is emerging: the checklist seems to be able to defend anyone, even the most experienced, against failure in many more tasks than we realized.  They provide a kind of cognitive net.  They catch mental flaws in inherent in all of us—flaws of memory and attention and thoroughness…Even the most expert among us can gain from searching out the patterns of mistakes and failures and putting a few checks in place.”

Policing is pretty technical these days and the stakes there are pretty high.  Why not Checklists?  They can serve as guidelines and developmental tools.  Why not start with procedural justice?

First, what do I mean by “procedural justice?

The smart people I learn from lead me to believe that procedural justice is a general term referring to the way police officers exercise their authority;  a system for doing the right thing.  The system’s parts are the law and the state and federal constitutions; an officer’s trained and routinely re-examined heuristics*; and the individual officer’s core values.Procedural justice is the system for achieving the state of Legitimacy. 

* (Mental shortcuts our minds use; they use your training and your experience to give us possible courses of action within seconds of encountering a person(s) and new sets of circumstances).
 
 

Tracey Meares wrote,  “the use of procedures regarded as fair by all parties facilitates the maintenance of positive relations among group members…while it may not be obvious how a particular case should come out, it is almost always clear how parties should proceed and be treated in that particular case.”

 “…people appear to care very deeply about the way they are treated by authorities quite apart from the outcomes of particular encounters.”

So here are some items that might make it onto such a checklist. ( Yours will look better than this. I don’t know how to increase the production qualities of this blog  and make it look like a real checklist).

The Checklist

Have I looked at data that tell me how my officers are doing with practicing procedural justice?                       This shift?           This week?            This month?             Notes

Have I talked with each of my officers about how s/he is doing with practicing procedural justice?                       This shift?           This week?            This month?             Notes

Have I arranged for scenario-based training to help my troops unlink stereotypes?

This shift?           This week?            This month?             Notes

Have I arranged for or encouraged positive contact training between my troops and diverse members of the public?    This shift?           This week?            This month?     Notes

Did anyone bring me a problem they needed help with in the area of procedural justice?

This shift?           This week?            This month?             Notes

Did I have a developmental conversation with a subordinate?

This shift?           This week?            This month?             Notes

Did I give an attaboy related to procedural justice and legitimacy?

This shift?           This week?            This month?             Notes

Have I checked on whether my personnel are treating everyone with the highest level of dignity and respect possible under the circumstances?

This shift?           This week?            This month?             Notes

Did I review reports with eye for signals about the quality of procedural justice the officer is practicing?               This shift?           This week?            This month?             Notes

What else would you add?    This shift?           This week?            This month?             Notes

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About stephenomeara

My name is Jim Jordan. I have had the privilege of working with the Boston Police Department and hundreds more departments over my nearly 30-year career in police administration and city government. I am now teaching and consulting independently at www.sergeantsleadership.org. I have learned the best of what I know from the thousands of smart, dedicated and ethical police personnel and scholars who have guided me along the way. My address is named for the great Reform commissioner of the Boston Police at the turn of the 20th century. Commissioner O'Meara died just a short while before the Strike in 1919. He was replaced by a vicious puppet (of Gov. Coolidge) named Edwin U. Curtis. Had O'Meara lived events may have turned out quite differently.
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