Applying a procedural justice framework to predict openness to change and likelihood of future use of evidence-based interview techniques to law enforcement.

Applying a procedural justice framework to predict openness to change and likelihood of future use of evidence-based interview techniques to law enforcement.

Procedural fairness within law enforcement organizations is important to consider when implementing programs of change, especially evidence-based training. This is the bottom line of a recently published article in Law and Human Behavior. Below is a summary of the research and findings as well as a translation of this research into practice.


Featured Article | Law and Human Behavior | 2020, Vol. 44, No. 5, 394-411

On the Importance of a Procedurally Fair Organizational Climate for Openness to Change in Law Enforcement


Laure Brimbal, Texas State University
Ben Bradford, University College London
Jonathan Jackson, London School of Economics
Maria Hartwig, John Jay College of Criminal Justice, City University of New York
Emily Joseph, John Jay College of Criminal Justice, City University of New York


Objective: Drawing on recent work in policing and organizational psychology, we examined factors related to openness to organizational change and to adopting evidence-based interview techniques among law enforcement investigators. Hypotheses: We hypothesized that a procedurally fair organizational climate would predict outcomes tied to organizational change, mediated by organizational identification and perceived legitimacy. We also predicted that procedural justice factors would be stronger predictors than outcome- oriented factors (i.e., rewards and sanctions). Method: Study 1 surveyed law enforcement investigators (N = 711) about their attitudes toward and behaviors within their organization (i.e., perceived procedural fairness of one’s organization, identification, legitimacy, compliance, empowerment, and extra-role behavior). Study 2 conceptually extended this survey to interviewers (N = 71) trained in a new, evidence-based interviewing approach adding likelihood of future use of the novel interviewing approach as an outcome. Results: In Study 1, the more investigators thought their organization had a procedurally fair climate, the more they identified with the organization and perceived it as legitimate. Framing compliance, empowerment and extra-role behavior as associated with openness to change, we found that legitimacy predicted compliance and tendency toward extra-role behavior (i.e., going “above and beyond”), while level of identification predicted feelings of empowerment and extra-role behavior. Study 2 partially replicated findings from Study 1 and found that motivation to attend the training also predicted likelihood of future use. Conclusions: These studies highlight the value of a procedurally just organizational climate framework in understanding law enforcement interrogators’ propensity toward implementing new evidence-based interrogation techniques


organization climate, procedural justice, evidence-based interrogation, police culture, programs of change

Summary of the Research

“Police organizations in the United States and beyond are increasingly being asked to become more “evidence-based.” Ever since Sherman’s (1998) call for the inclusion of scientific evidence on “what works” into decisions about police powers and tactics, the attention of police managers—and front-line staff— has been directed more and more toward what academic research has to say about their practice. By focusing on the accrual of evidence from high-quality research studies and evaluations, police organizations should be able to use scarce resources more effectively, produce better outcomes, and avoid some of the pitfalls associated with outdated or counterproductive tactics” (p. 395).

“Yet the acceptance and implementation of evidence-based policing within police departments has been patchy at best/ While the scientific knowledge base surrounding policing has grown substantially in recent decades, Sherman (2013) argues that use of this knowledge remains far less impressive. Police leaders and managers may accept and embrace evidence-based policing, but this seems to not have yet percolated down to the rank-and-file, who seemingly remain convinced of the value of on-the-job practical and craft knowledge over scientific evidence and ‘expert opinion’. One key area of policing where research and practice have long been in a state of opposition is interviewing practices. The scientific consensus is that current interrogation practice, both in criminal justice and human intelligence-gathering contexts, would benefit from major overhaul. Yet despite the amount of research on the topic of interviewing, there has to date been no systematic effort to understand how to effectively implement evidence-based interview and interrogation techniques. Across two studies, we sought to apply well-established bodies of work in other domains (e.g., change management, procedurally just organizational climate) to identify the predictors of openness and resistance to change in a large sample of law enforcement professionals (Study 1), and test whether these factors indeed predict intent to use evidence-based interview techniques after being
trained in them (Study 2)” (p. 395).

“Our goal in these two studies was to establish a baseline level of evidence, for future research to build upon, on the role that procedural justice may play in motivating active and positive behavior within the organization, and compare the role that procedural justice plays compared to the more rational choice aspects of reward and sanction, within law enforcement. We hypothesized that a procedurally fair organizational climate (from management and supervisors) would predict outcomes tied to organizational change (i.e., compliance, extra-role behavior, and empowerment), mediated by organizational identification and perceived legitimacy. Furthermore, we predicted that procedural justice factors would be stronger predictors than outcome-oriented factors such as reward and sanctions” (p. 397).

“We examined this type of model within a population not previously evaluated: law enforcement officers. We surveyed them about their perceptions of their own organizations and, additionally in Study 2, their attitudes toward implementing evidence-based interviewing practices” (p. 397).

“Generally, our findings suggest that officers who perceive their organizations as functioning in a procedurally just manner, and see both upper management and their direct supervisors as fair, transparent, and trustworthy, also tend to view themselves as an important part of their organization and think that its policies are in line with their own values. Those officers are in turn more likely to go above and beyond their job duties, feel entrusted to make decisions in the field, and comply with requests from superiors— even when disagreeing with them or failing to understand them. These officers will be most open to implementing change programs and most adaptable and open to employing evidence-based interview techniques (e.g., a rapport-based approach to interviewing). Furthermore, although no causal link can be established, due to the observational nature of our data, it is plausible to suggest that organizations displaying the characteristics described earlier are most likely to be successful in their implementation of evidence-based interview techniques. Thus, the climate of a particular law enforcement organization might be a good indicator as to whether implementing programs of change will be successful or not. Furthermore, organizations with a particularly procedurally fair climate could be identified and targeted for the piloting of programs of change” (p. 407)

“In conclusion, we were able to find support for our model predicting factors hindering and promoting openness to change, supporting the importance of procedural justice factors when compared to outcome-oriented factors such as reward and sanctions. These studies add to the literature by applying a procedural justice framework to predict openness to change and likelihood of future use of evidence-based interview techniques. While among LEOs individual openness to change may be the most important factor predicting willingness to, here, attend a training course on evidence-based interrogation techniques and take up the methods the course suggested, procedural justice within organizations was also important. If we took two individuals from Study 2 with the same motivation to attend the course, the person who found their supervisors and senior managers to be fairer was more likely to say they would act on the course contents. This suggests that procedural justice concerns may work alongside or in tandem with the individual propensities of LEOs to engage with evidence-based practice. At the margins, reconfiguring law enforcement agencies’ structures and processes in ways aligned with the concept of procedural justice could enhance employee “buy-in” to programs of change” (p. 409).

Translating Research into Practice

“Much research involving procedural justice in law enforcement focuses on how front-line officers’ exercise of procedural justice principles might improve police and private citizen interactions. We find here that these same principles of procedural justice, when employed within a police organization, might improve front-line officers’ experience of their work environment, making them more likely to comply with changes in practices, such as using evidence-based interviewing strategies. This is especially important because using evidence-based interviewing such as a rapport-based approach that involves empathy, respect, and understanding can improve interactions within an interview room and beyond. Principles of procedural justice should then not only be employed by law enforcement but within law enforcement agencies so as to stimulate change within practices” (p. 407).

Other Interesting Tidbits for Researchers and Clinicians

“First, we are limited in that it is possible that participants’ impressions of their organizations (i.e., management, supervisors, sanctions. and rewards) are not accurate and that reported likelihood of future use (Study 2) will not be reflected in actual future use. Second, our data were observational in nature. We did not control or manipulate variables in our studies, and thus we cannot make any claim to causation. Furthermore, despite our efforts to model mediations, our items were presented in an order that does not mirror our model (outcomes, then mediators, then predictors) and not randomized given an initial attempt to distribute the survey in person as well as online. In experimental work, it is important to measure the mediator before the dependent variable (because the design permits causal claims), but in cross-sectional survey work when no such causal claims are made, it is only important if one thinks there are question order effects. Future research should replicate our findings using experimental design and causal mediation analysis methods that are beyond the scope of this paper, and build on our findings by manipulating similar predictor variables to measure their effect on similar mediators and outcomes” (p. 408).

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