Utilizing Procedural Justice in Law Enforcement



“The four pillars of procedural justice should always be kept in mind
when developing risk objectives for assessing police performance.”

by Katharine Charnay, Rising 2L
Syracuse University College of Law, Syracuse N.Y.

Charnay expects to complete her law degree in 2022. She received a BA with honors in English from California State University at Northridge — and graduated cum laude — where she won multiple scholarships and volunteered extensively outside class.


According to the US Department of Justice’s Community Oriented Policing Services, “procedural justice” refers to notions of fairness being applied throughout the processes of resolving disputes and of allocating law enforcement resources.  COPS states that law enforcement agencies embracing the concept of procedural justice find that it can help to promote positive organizational change and can bolster better relationships within the department and the community. 

COPS has assigned four pillars of procedural justice: 

[1] fairness in processes
[2] transparency in actions
[3] opportunities for voice and
[4] impartiality in decision making 

These four pillars should always be kept in mind when developing risk objectives for assessing police performance. While they offer a broad outline of what procedural justice is, problems can arise when deciding how best to implement these guidelines — not only within the law enforcement community, but among the public as well. 

The best way to practice the four pillars is to ensure that the public is made well aware of law enforcement’s goals of protecting the public and educating the community. That ensures better accountability and transparency when it comes to procedural justice. 

  • How do we ensure that citizens and police officers are treated fairly?
  • The key to answering that question is providing more access to education, so police officers and the public have similar tools – so everyone can follow the law and have access to justice.
  • Procedural justice should serve the public and law enforcement officers equally. 

In 2015, in an article entitled “Procedural Justice for Law Enforcement: An Overview,” Laura Kunard PhD and Charlene Moe, from the Center for Public Safety and Justice, summarized a fascinating equation to define procedural justice: 




Kunard and Moe went on to explain that the ways in which community members develop opinions about a specific interaction with a law enforcement agent — their assessment — is summed up by the outcome of the interaction with the officer and how the encounter unfolded. 

  • For example, when an officer cites a civilian for unlawful behavior, such as speeding, the officer should first tell the civilian why he or she is being cited.
  • In this brief encounter, procedural justice can occur so long as the officer is clear with his or her intentions and thus the civilian is treated with respect when given all the information needed to understand why he or she is being pulled over and ticketed. 
  • Fairness should occur not just in the outcome — but throughout the process. 

While it is never fun to receive a speeding ticket, fairness, justice and transparency can all be employed when it is clear to both parties that the person was indeed speeding and violating the law. 

Now that there is more visibility than ever when it comes to police/community relations in the United States, there is a great opportunity for police officers to showcase their tremendous skill at communicating effectively with the public to ensure that there is justice, fairness and greater engagement with the community. As Kunard and Moe noted, police engagement with the community “isn’t new, it’s what good cops have always done.” 

Kunard and Moe’s research has found that so long as police work is rooted in the four pillars of fairness in decision making, impartiality, providing voice and transparency, the community and police alike can thrive. Mutual respect is key so that police and citizens can see each other as working towards the same goal of achieving peace and safety in all communities. Procedural justice can only be effective when both sides are working towards a common goal. 



Kunard, Laura, and Moe, Charlene. 2015. Procedural Justice for Law Enforcement: An Overview. Washington DC: Office of Community Oriented Policing Services



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