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Procedural Justice & Police Legitimacy Training in Chicago: Reaping the Benefits of The Golden Rule

Author: Sergeant Mark Sedevic, Ed.D.

Copyright: 9-1-1 Magazine, Feature Content

Date: 2013-09-21
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Procedural justice is the process used by police officers where citizens are treated fairly and with proper respect.

Calvin Coolidge once said, “The duties which a police officer owes to the state are of a most exacting nature. No one is compelled to choose the profession of a police officer, but having chosen it, everyone is obliged to live up to the standard of its requirements.”[1] Procedural justice is an example of the high standards that are required by the policing profession. 

Procedural justice is the process used by police officers where citizens are treated fairly and with proper respect. The police gain acceptance when they are viewed by the public as fairly distributing police services across people and communities. [2] Legitimacy refers to when a citizen feels that a police officer should be deferred to, complied with, and trusted. It has been stated that positive citizen experiences lead to positive evaluations of the police. [3]

Chicago Police Superintendent Garry F. McCarthy tasked the Chicago Police Education and Training Division with developing a procedural justice and police legitimacy training program that would provide training for all members of the Chicago Police Department. In March of 2012, two members of the Chicago Police Education and Training Division went to Yale University to meet with Professors Tracey Meares and Tom Tyler. Both professors are leading researchers in the area of procedural justice and police legitimacy. Professors Meares and Tyler helped the two members of the Chicago Police Education and Training Division brainstorm ideas on curriculum development and implementation of the procedural justice and police legitimacy training program. Then, the procedural justice and police legitimacy curriculum was developed by personnel from the Chicago Police Education and Training Division after analyzing all of the research in the subject area. After the curriculum was developed, two procedural justice and police legitimacy pilot classes were given to Chicago Police field personnel and staff at the Chicago Police Education and Training Division in May of 2012. After reviewing the constructive criticism and survey results of the pilot classes, the curriculum was revised and finalized in June of 2012.

The goal of the Chicago Police procedural justice and police legitimacy training is for officers to understand the core concepts of procedural justice and legitimacy in order to build better relationships with the communities that they serve and the people whom they work with on the Chicago Police Department.

The four core principles of Procedural Justice and Legitimacy are:

  1. Giving others a Voice (Listening);
  2. Neutrality in decision making;
  3. Respectful treatment; and
  4. Trustworthiness.

The Chicago Police procedural justice and police legitimacy training course is an eight hour course that is divided into five modules. The course is given on second watch (0700-1500) and third watch 1530-2330), so all first watch personnel attend the course on either second or third watch. The classroom is set up in pods with groups of four at each pod. Ideally, the classroom contains about 24 Chicago Police Department personnel at each session and all participating personnel wear casual business attire. Uniforms are not worn in this course because the Chicago Police Education and Training Division wants to create an atmosphere where it’s safe to share ideas and rank is not an issue. Some of the training course is lecture, but the course is highly interactive. The procedural justice and police legitimacy instructors guide group discussions, ensure everyone is involved in the exercises, keep the pace of the program energetic and interesting, and share their own experiences to increase the impact of their teaching. Additionally, all of the procedural justice and police legitimacy instructors have diverse police and educational backgrounds. The instructors have all or a combination of the following: masters degrees, credible street experience, military service, teaching experience, counseling certificates, and multiple continuing education credits in leadership. All of the accomplishments by the instructors increase their credibility and legitimacy in the participants’ eyes.

Module One of the procedural justice and police legitimacy training course is entitled “The Interactive Nature Between Procedural Justice, Legitimacy, and Goals in Policing.” This module defines procedural justice and police legitimacy; discusses the ideas of when police officers give citizens a voice and are objective and respectful, police officers gain the trust of the citizenry; talks about how the procedural justice process of fairness and respect leads citizens to view the police as legitimate and trustworthy; and examines the benefits of procedural justice, which are greater safety, lower stress levels, fewer complaints, cooperation and compliance from citizens, and crime reduction. A video is shown and debriefed during the module as an example of procedural justice in action. After introducing the learners to procedural justice and legitimacy, the learners do a group exercise and are asked what their goals are as police officers. The instructors emphasize how the concepts of procedural justice and legitimacy will help the learners to achieve their goals. The instructors talk about how procedural justice, legitimacy, and police officer’s goals are interactive in nature. Then, the instructors and learners examine the Chicago Police mission statement and point out the similarities between their individual goals and the agency’s goals. It is emphasized how the concepts of procedural justice and legitimacy will help to achieve agency goals.

Module Two is entitled “Legitimacy.” This module begins with a group exercise where the learners create a list in order to answer what the community expects from the police and what the police expect from the community. A facilitation of the commonalities is discussed and instructors address whether or not the expectations are being met by both parties.

One of Robert Peel’s nine principles is discussed that states the police should always have a relationship with the public that gives reality to the tradition that the police are the public and the public are the police. [4] It is emphasized that the police are members of the community and gain their authority from citizens in a democracy. The expectations exercise shows that the community and the police expect many of the same things from each other.  The underlying fundamental concept that is addressed is the Golden Rule. Asking the question, “How would I like to be treated in this circumstance?” is an integrity guideline for any situation. The Golden Rule divides cultural and religious boundaries and is accepted by most people throughout the world. It can be used to create common ground with any reasonable person. [5] Module two also discusses the following: The concept of deterrence theory versus obeying the law and lawful authorities because it is the right thing to do; the benefits of legitimacy because it promotes decision acceptance, desirable public behaviors, compliance with the law, and cooperation with the police; and the meaning of professor Tracey Meares’ east, west, north, south diagram and its relation to lawfulness and legitimacy. [6]

Module Three is entitled “Procedural Justice.” This module begins with defining justice and showing how it doesn’t always mean enforcing the law, but can mean taking actions that serve the greater good. [7] The module goes on to define procedural justice and discuss the research that shows procedural justice is more important than the outcome of the encounter. A positive or negative outcome mostly does not have an effect on police legitimacy, it is the process that is more important. [8]

The Chicago Police Education and Training Division uses a procedural justice formula as an easy way to remember the research findings behind procedural justice: A = O + P. A citizen’s overall assessment of their interaction with the police (A), whether positive or negative, depends on more than just the outcome (O). It is largely influenced by the citizen’s perception of the way they were treated – in other words, the process used by the police (P). An outcome is defined as either negative (citizen received citation, physically arrested, etc.) or positive (citizen received no citation, was not arrested, etc.). Regardless, extant research indicates that the process used (i.e., fair or unfair treatment) is more important than the outcome. This is the key finding in understanding the concept of Procedural Justice in policing.

Module Three also discusses the four principles of procedural justice: Voice, Neutrality, Respect, and Trustworthiness. By giving others a Voice, the police allow the person to voice their point of view or offer an explanation. Active listening should be practiced by the officer and allow others to talk. Having a voice makes people feel that they are a part of the process and that they have input in the decision, even if it does not impact the decision. Non-verbal communication components, such as eye contact, facial expressions, hand gestures, body position, tone of voice, and proper attire are discussed. Decision-making that is Neutral leads to good results. An officer needs to exhibit neutral feelings and objectivity toward all people. Unbiased decision making is not based on personal bias; it is consistent and transparent. Police officers should treat others with quality, respect, and dignity. Respect for the person shows that the police respect one’s rights and treating a person with dignity validates them as a human being. The quality of treatment, listening to others, and doing the right thing leads to Trustworthiness. A police officer’s power of influence comes from their individual trustworthiness, maturity, attitude, and character. This influence creates the opportunity to earn respect and cooperation because of who the police are rather than what they are. [7] Thus, the power of influence is greater than the power of control.

Module Four of the procedural justice and police legitimacy training course is entitled “Historical and Generational Effects of Policing.” Throughout the world and even in modern times, police are sometimes seen as the enemy of the people, a force who is not to be trusted, part of the establishment, power hungry, or worse. The treatment of minorities by the police in the United States throughout history is examined, especially during the Civil Rights era. Past police actions have served to shape the tenuous relationship that law enforcement has with some minority communities. It is stressed that these events still affect policing today and are often recalled by certain communities when dealing with the police. Also, the treatment of people by the police in other countries is discussed. Chicago is a diverse city and the police need to understand that some people who live in Chicago come from different parts of the world where the police are a corrupt and brutal force. The police need to understand that some people from other countries fear all police because of their history and prior experiences in those other countries.

Module Five is entitled “Procedural Justice at its Finest.” This module begins by examining powerful positive images of police officers doing good things in the communities in which they serve. The positive images are reviewed, the learners discuss how they perceive the images and what the nonverbal body language is communicating and how the images display procedural justice leading to legitimacy. The instructors bring in their own personal success stories while working with citizens in the communities that they patrolled. Also, the learners share positive stories about working with the community in which they patrol. After the positive images are analyzed, an exercise is conducted on what police officers can take away from the procedural justice and police legitimacy class that may benefit them in becoming a more effective police officer and/or person. Lastly, the Chicago Police Department core values of professionalism, obligation, leadership, integrity, courage, and excellence are discussed. It is pointed out that the Chicago Police core values are the same values that we all believe in as members of a just society. As long as the police uphold their intrinsic values and practice the Golden Rule, they will build trust and legitimacy among the citizens of Chicago. Good deeds equal great results and procedural justice leads to police legitimacy.

Throughout all of the modules, short video clips are presented, debriefed, and analyzed. Some of the video clips are negative examples of police officers not using procedural justice principles and the results of the negative interactions are discussed. Additionally, most of the video clips are positive examples of police officers using procedural justice principles and the long term positive effects are discussed.

As of September 2013, the Chicago Police Education and Training Division has trained over 7,700 Chicago Police Department personnel in the procedural justice and police legitimacy program. Various police/law enforcement personnel, university professors, citizen groups, and news media personnel from around the nation have reviewed and examined the Chicago Police procedural justice and police legitimacy training class. Researchers from the University of Illinois at Chicago and Northwestern University have taken an interest in the Chicago Police procedural justice and police legitimacy training program and have begun conducting research in order to examine whether or not the training is making a positive difference in Chicago. Also, the class has been well received by Chicago Police Department members of all ranks and various work experience. Lastly, the class is being rated as "above average" over 80 percent of the time by Chicago Police Department personnel who have completed the course.

Procedural justice and police legitimacy is as basic as the old adage, “It is not what you say, but how you say it. It is not what you do, but how you are doing it.” Procedural justice and legitimacy in law enforcement is not just a strategy, but a movement. By fostering an environment where procedural justice principles become standard practice, police departments can create an organizational culture that fosters a true partnership with the public and leads to safer work environments. It is about doing the right thing all of the time and treating others how you would want to be treated. When police departments utilize procedural justice, trusting relationships are built and great results are obtained. Reap the benefits!

Mark Sedevic is currently a Sergeant on the Chicago Police Department who authors curriculum and trains police officers at the Chicago Police Academy. Sergeant Sedevic has 13 years of police experience and served 6 years with the military. He holds a master's degree in Criminal Justice and a doctoral degree in Ethical Leadership. 

Photo courtesy CPD.  

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[1] Josephson Institute, Quotations: Public service and government, 2013,,%20government (accessed Jan 29, 2013).

[2] Sunshine, J. & Tyler, T. R.,  The role of procedural justice and legitimacy in shaping public support for policing, Law and Society Review, 37(3), 513-548, 2003.

[3] Meares, T. L., The Legitimacy of Police Among Young African-American Men, Yale Faculty Scholarship Series, Paper 528, 2009, (accessed Jan 28, 2013).

[4] Josephson, M., Becoming an exemplary peace officer: The guide to ethical decision making, Los Angeles: Josephson Institute, 2007.

[5] Maxwell, J., Ethics 101: What every leader needs to know, New York: Center Street, 2005.

[6] Meares, T. L., Don’t jump the shark: Understanding deterrence and legitimacy in the architecture of law enforcement, 2010, (accessed June 5, 2012).

[7] FranklinCovey, The nobility of policing: Facilitator guide, Salt Lake City, Utah: Author, 2009.

[8] Tyler, T. R., Police legitimacy and cooperation with the police: New directions in community policing. PowerPoint presentation by Author, 2012.






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