NUI Galway law professor Tom O’Malley says there is reason to hope that relations between police and community in the US can be improved after the death of George Floyd, which has sparked civil unrest in the US and protests across the world.
In a blog post, he writes that Floyd’s death in such horrific circumstances at the hands of the police in Minneapolis was not an isolated event.
He cites figures from Professor Paul Butler of Georgetown Law School, a leading scholar of race and criminal justice, who has noted that since 2005 about 15,000 people have been killed by US law enforcement officers, while fewer than 150 officers have been charged with homicide.
Of those charged, a majority were found not guilty or had the charges dropped.
But Professor O'Malley also points to an academic article published a few weeks before events in Minneapolis which reported on the outcome of a programme in Chicago.
A total of 8,480 police officers were encouraged to adopt procedural justice policing strategies which, in the words of the report, “emphasise respect, neutrality, and transparency in the exercise of authority, while providing opportunities for civilians to explain their side of events”.
It was found that over a two-year period, the adoption of such strategies resulted in a 10% reduction in complaints against the police and a reduction of 6.4% in the use of force against civilians.
“These results may seem modest but, when the raw numbers are considered, the programme appears to have effected a significant improvement in relations between the police and the community,” Professor O’Malley writes.
The article in question, “Procedural justice training reduces police use of force and complaints against officers” by George Wood, Tom R Tyler and Andrew V. Papachristos, was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Professor O’Malley suggests that procedural justice is more likely to influence the behaviour of the law-abiding rather than the law breakers towards the police.
“They are more likely to accept that legitimacy if they know that the police response will be marked by the qualities identified by Tyler – objectively, lack of bias, strict adherence to the law, politeness, fairness and so forth,” he writes.