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Chicago Forum Focuses on Police and Public

Speakers at IPR-led event discuss aspects of procedural justice


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Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy (l.) and IPR political scientist Wesley G. Skogan 

IPR political scientist Wesley G. Skogan, an expert on crime and policing, hosted the Chicago Forum on Procedural Justice and Legitimacy in Policing on March 21–22. The conference focused on the internal operations of police organizations and the relationships between the police and the public.

The forum, which received funding from the Joyce Foundation, featured researchers and police administrators from all over the country and the world. International guests traveled from Argentina, Belgium, the Netherlands, and United Kingdom.

Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy spoke briefly to the attendees at the beginning of the workshop, linking the role of procedural justice within police departments to the public. When police feel respected and validated within the department, they, in turn, treat the public better. Because of that, “the internal legitimacy of the department is the single most important thing we do,” he said. 

tracey meares
Tracey Meares

In opening Friday’s program on internal procedural justice to increase officer compliance, Skogan noted, “Police chiefs don’t get fired because crime stats go up—the two big problems that police chiefs have to worry about bringing them down are police misconduct and corruption.” 

Skogan shared results from an experiment he conducted in conjunction with a Chicago police training academy workshop on procedural justice. They show that officers held a more favorable view about procedural justice after the workshop, especially in getting citizens to participate. The long-term effects were small, likely due to a number of factors, including the difficulty in monitoring post-workshop behavior, and the very limited time devoted to the workshop. The director of Chicago’s training academy, Deputy Chief Keith Calloway, was present, along with a number of the trainers, and they joined the discussion.

The second day’s panels focused on using procedural justice to align the relationship between the police and the public.

“Legal standards and procedural justice standards are not necessarily incompatible, but the police focus on legality, whereas the public doesn’t think about legality, the public cares about how they are treated,” Skogan said.

Tracey Meares, Walton Hale Hamilton Professor of Law at Yale University, presented research showing that people’s perceptions of how well they were treated by an officer drive the assessment of the “rightfulness” of police actions, completely independent of whether the officer’s actions were lawful.

The forum was the latest event in Skogan’s efforts to shed light on the relationships between police, crime, and communities. He is planning to conduct additional research on the Chicago Police Department’s efforts to improve internal legitimacy. He will be conducting a large, two-wave survey of Chicago residents and their perceptions of the police in the coming months.

Wesley G. Skogan is professor of political science and an IPR fellow.