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"An Exploratory Study on the Practice of Procedural Justice and Use of Force in Police-Citizen Encounters" (by Charles Cunha): Review 2

Published onDec 05, 2023
"An Exploratory Study on the Practice of Procedural Justice and Use of Force in Police-Citizen Encounters" (by Charles Cunha): Review 2

Vote: Publish pending major changes

This paper draws upon interviews with 12 police officers employed by two different local California departments to shed light on “law enforcement officers’ opinions, thoughts, and experiences on the use of force and the use of procedural justice in police-citizen encounters.” It proffers to “add to the knowledge of procedural justice as being a viable strategy for reducing the use of force in police-citizen encounters. These are relevant methods and aims for the readership of JQCCJ. That said, I have serious reservations about the sample design and note that the paper would need significant reframing of the theoretical underpinnings or presentation and interpretation of data should it be deemed worthy of publication.

At the outset of the Theoretical Foundations section of the paper, the author notes that “the current research was prompted by the social problem of law enforcement officers’ inappropriate behavior during police-citizen interaction in their daily duties.” Such a tone implies that the use of force or coercive actions on the part of police are inherently inappropriate. Both are authorized parts of the policing charter in the US. Of course, they can be done inappropriately but the tone implies they are by default. I suggest a more balanced presentation here. Next, the author notes that they will use social process theories (e.g., social bonding and social learning) to help explain how officers come to operationalize force and procedural justice principles. Aside from noting my general complaint that too many criminologists think they should force all behavior under a theory of crime (i.e., despite the backdoor claim that they are capable of explaining all behavior, not just criminal behavior), both social learning and social bonding were conceived to account for the breaking of the law, not the enforcement of it, as opposed to looking to organizational theories to explain organizational behavior, the author does a poor job applying the chosen social process theories to the topics at hand. The discussion of theory tenets is generic and not tailored to the topic at hand (i.e., after discussing, attachment, commitment, involvement, and belief, the author should speak to how they might fit to use of force and procedural justice. The overview and setup for the social learning model are even thinner, with only a cursory mention of the core concepts. Matters devolve from there, as the Findings section does not provide a step-by-step application of the concepts and places the onus on the reader to connect quotes back to concepts. On its face, the graphic presented in Figure 1 would be a nice visual representation of the findings but the text makes little effort to introduce or apply the concepts presented therein. It is as if the figure is unrelated to the text.

The reader also needs more setup and execution as it applies to the two themes identified in the Findings section: socialization and procedural justice. They lack an obvious flow from the paper’s front end and are not well connected back to the literature in the paper’s back end.

The sample is both small and overly diverse to allow for meaningful patterning of the results. Twelve officers from two very different agencies (one urban and one rural) undercut the utility of the data. It is unclear why this design was necessary when the rural agency yielded a lone interview. Why not go with a sample of 11 from a single organization to avoid such concerns?

We need more work that operationalizes the theoretical underpinnings and lived experiences of police officers’ use of force and orientations toward procedural justice. This paper has potential in this regard, but with conceptual underdevelopment and incomplete execution undercut this potential.

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