What is the Evidence on Community Policing and Procedural Justice?
Community policing and procedural justice are listed under “What’s promising?” on our Review of the Research Evidence.
Gill and colleagues (2014) conducted a Campbell systematic review to examine the impact of community policing on crime and disorder, fear of crime, legitimacy, and citizen satisfaction. Their results suggest a small impact on violent crime, a nonsignificant impact on property crime, and a small effect on fear of crime. Thus, community policing is only weakly related to reducing crime, at least in the short term, which is why we have not listed community policing under “what works?” for reducing crime. Community policing was associated with larger, significant positive benefits for citizen satisfaction, perceived disorder, and police legitimacy.
Community policing programs, therefore, may be one way for the police to incorporate principles of procedural justice into their interactions with citizens and as a result improve police-community relations. Based on Tyler’s (2004) process-based model (described above), it could be the case that community policing has a small impact on crime in the short-term, but a more substantial long-term positive relationship through increased levels of legitimacy and satisfaction, although future research is needed on these linkages. These enhanced citizen perceptions of police legitimacy may contribute to increased compliance with the law and reduced crime. Again, as noted above, these linkages have not been tested in intervention research to date, and so it is difficult to reach any strong conclusions about the relationship between community policing and long-term crime reduction.
In a related systematic review, Mazerolle, Bennett, Davis, Sargeant, and Manning (2013) examined police interventions designed to enhance procedural justice and/or increase citizen perceptions of police legitimacy. They focused on interventions that incorporated at least one component of procedural justice (participation, neutrality, dignity/respect, trustworthy motives). Their findings suggest the promise of police efforts to enhance legitimacy, although their review covered a range of studies, most of which included multiple kinds of interventions, making it difficult to disentangle the specific impact of procedural justice. There was evidence that these interventions increased citizen satisfaction, cooperation, and levels of procedural justice. The overall effect of these programs on perceptions of legitimacy was large, but not statistically significant, indicating variability across studies. The impact of these interventions on reducing reoffending was also mixed.
While community policing programs are one way to incorporate procedural justice into policing, they are not the only possible approach. Mazerolle, Antrobus, Bennett, and Tyler (2013), for example, found that even brief procedurally just police-citizen encounters during random breath testing for drunken driving could enhance citizen perceptions of police legitimacy. Findings here, however, are inconsistent, as a study using a similar intervention in Scotland found positive impact of the procedural justice intervention (MacQueen & Bradford, 2015)
Finally, Bennett and colleagues (2008) looked specifically at the effectiveness of neighborhood watch programs and found overall that neighborhood watch is associated with a significant crime reduction, suggesting further crime control benefits for this type of community policing program. Prior narrative reviews of the literature were less supportive of the benefits of neighborhood watch programs, but Bennett et al. found that the programs were associated with a crime reduction of between 16 and 26 percent.