Study: Stronger Training Key To Reducing Police Complaints, Use Of Force On Civilians

EVANSTON, Ill. — Renowned American psychologist Abraham Maslow once said that, “If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” It’s a thought provoking notion, and one that can easily be applied to many police department’s reaction to protestors or the slightest hint on non-compliance. Officers are trained to use authority and force to produce results, and while such measures are certainly necessary sometimes, there have also been far too many recent examples of police using unjustified and excessive force on civilians.

So, what’s the solution? Provide police with more than just a hammer, or in this case, train them to not to immediately turn to physical force. That’s the main finding of a new study from Northwestern University that investigated the effects of a procedural justice training program which included more than 8,000 Chicago police officers. They found that the training program reduced complaints filed against the police by 10% and reduced use of force among officers by 6% over the following two years.

“The CPD is undergoing significant reform on multiple fronts, through a consent decree, including new top leadership and now a response to an unprecedented health epidemic,” says Andrew Papachristos, co-author of the study and a professor of sociology in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences at Northwestern, in a release. “Fundamental to such reforms is repairing trust with the larger community. Reducing force and misconduct in a way that is fair and transparent by adopting procedural justice strategies is one key way to repair trust.”

The training program was only one day, so it shouldn’t be all that difficult for other police forces to adopt such an idea.

“It’s particularly notable that these reductions were achieved through a training program, which was scaled up to include a sizable majority of the officers within the CPD,” comments IPR postdoctoral fellow George Wood.

Procedural justice training emphasizes treating civilians with respect, dignity, and courtesy, improving overall transparency, and addressing community concerns, not just stopping crime. This type of training was originally recommended by President Obama’s 2015 Task Force on 21st-Century Policing over more traditional “command-and-control” policing techniques.

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The study’s authors estimate that procedural justice training in Chicago led to 500 fewer incidents of police force or brutality between 2011 and 2016. They came to that number by analyzing department files and administrative records over that five year period.

“By reducing force and hostility, this type of training might help the process of rebuilding trust between police and civilians — and because the training is relatively short and can be staggered over time, it will not be a major disruption of policing activities,” Wood adds.

In summation, this research suggests that more training for officers can seriously change how they act while on the job, cut down on the use of excessive force, and reduce complaints filed by the public. It’s estimated that the benefits of training are felt for at least two years, and the study’s authors theorize that trained officers often spread what they’ve learned to other untrained officers and departments.

The study is published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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