Procedural justice, routine encounters and citizen perceptions of police: main findings from the Queensland Community Engagement Trial (QCET)
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To test, under randomized field trial conditions, the impact of police using the principles of procedural justice during routine encounters with citizens on attitudes towards drink-driving, perceptions of compliance, and their satisfaction with the police.
We conducted the first randomized field trial—the ‘Queensland Community Engagement Trial’ (QCET)—to test the impact of police engaging with citizens by operationalizing the key ingredients of procedural justice (neutrality, citizen participation, respect, and trustworthy motives) in a short, high-volume police–citizen encounter. We randomly allocated 60 roadside Random Breath Testing (RBT) operations to control (business-as-usual) and experimental (procedural justice) conditions. Driver surveys were used to measure the key outcomes: attitudes towards drinking and driving, satisfaction with police and perceptions of compliance.
Citizen perceptions of the encounter revealed that the experimental treatment was delivered as planned. We also found significant differences between the experimental and control groups on all key outcome measures: drivers who received the experimental RBT encounter were 1.24 times more likely to report that their views on drinking and driving had changed than the control group; experimental respondents reported small but higher levels of compliance (d = .07) and satisfaction (d = .18) with police during the encounter than did their control group counterparts.
Our results show that the way citizens perceive the police can be influenced by the way in which police interact with citizens during routine encounters, and demonstrate the positive benefits of police using the principles of procedural justice. Our study was limited by the use of paper-only surveys and low response rate. We also recognize that the experiment setting (RBT road blocks) is limiting and non-reflective of the wider set of routine police–citizen encounters. Future research should be undertaken, using experimental methods, to replicate our field operationalization of procedural justice in different types of police–citizen encounters.
KeywordsPolice legitimacy Procedural justice Randomized field trial Random breath tests
The QCET was funded, in its entirety, by the Australian Research Council (ARC) Centre of Excellence in Policing and Security (CEPS). The authors acknowledge the assistance provided by the Queensland Police Service. The views expressed in this material are those of the authors and are not those of the Queensland Police Service. Responsibility for any errors of omission or commission remains with the authors. The Queensland Police Service expressly disclaims any liability for any damage resulting from the use of the material contained in this publication and will not be responsible for any loss, howsoever arising, from use or reliance on this material. The authors thank the Queensland Police Service for their leadership throughout the trial, in particular Assistant Commissioners Peter Martin, Brett Pointing, Ann Lewis, and Kim Adams, Superintendents Tonya Carew, Ron Cooper and Tony Rand, Inspector Pete Hosking, A/Inspector Shaun Dinon and Senior Sergeants Stephen Peck and Neale Stonely, who all demonstrated remarkable innovation during the development and implementation of QCET. We also appreciate the efforts of the Metropolitan South Region traffic officers, who readily engaged with the trial. The authors thank Patricia Ferguson, Dr Silke Meyer, Elise Sargeant and Renee Zahnow for their assistance in observing QCET operations; Linzie Jones for data entry; and Jacqueline Davis and Dr Gentry White for statistical advice. The authors also acknowledge A/Professor Kristina Murphy for her valued assistance in developing the QCET survey and appreciate the fantastic feedback and guidance provided by the JOEX Editor, Professor David Weisburd, and the anonymous reviewers during the peer review process.
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