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ESRC grant to study police procedural justice

Professor Jonathan Jackson, jointly with Professors Cliff Stott (PI, Keele University) and Ben Bradford (University College London), was recently awarded an ESRC grant of just under £1 million pounds for a 3-year project entitled 'From coercion to consent: social identity, legitimacy and a process model of police procedural justice'.

As explained by Professor Jackson:

The primary goal of this project is to develop a theoretical understanding of the processes through which the police can move away from coercion toward, or otherwise maintain, a consent-based approach to relations with marginalised and disenfranchised communities. We argue that the relationship between the police and such communities is more complex than has thus far been accounted for within procedural justice theory, particularly when it comes to issues of social identity and police-initiated encounters involving officers engaging in a regulatory role (as opposed to public-initiated encounters, like reporting a crime). We contend that this limitation is a direct outcome of: first, the relative absence in the literature of longitudinal qualitative studies that systematically address the underlying social and psychological dynamics of procedural fairness in its social and historical context (Bottoms and Tankebe 2012); second, the paucity of experimental research into variance in fairness perceptions among different, particularly marginalised, populations; and third, our lack of understanding of how the precise social psychological dynamics of procedural fairness and perceptions of police legitimacy mediate public support and self-regulation, particularly among those communities involved in antagonistic relationship with police (c.f., Epp et al. 2014; Harkin 2015). 

This project will construct a programme of mixed method research to explore and test a process-based theoretical account of procedural justice drawing upon the latest developments in contemporary social psychological and criminological theory and research methods. In empirical terms the project has three principal aims and objectives. The first aim is to systematically test and advance theoretical understanding of some of the core causal claims of procedural justice theory as these relate to the subjective dimensions of citizens’ encounters with police. Specifically, the project will develop a series of laboratory experiments that will utilise virtual reality simulations of police-citizen encounters to systemically examine the role of social identity and context in mediating perceptions of police legitimacy and compliance with the law. 

The second aim is to work with our partner police forces to undertake a parallel programme of ethnographic research to gather direct observation and other empirical evidence on the policing of marginalised communities, defined as groups where relations with police are problematic and policing issues are either controversial and / or regularly linked with conflict and/or accusations of illegitimacy. We will undertake observations of encounters in London, the West Midlands and West Yorkshire. Where arrests (or other forms of criminal justice action) take place within those encounters the study will develop longitudinal, qualitative and quantitative ‘case study’ data by tracking individuals through the criminal justice processes. Taken together these two programmes of empirical research will use a mixed methods approach to advance and test a process-based theoretical account of procedural justice drawing upon the latest developments in contemporary social psychological and criminological theory. 

The third aim is to address the application of our findings to policy and practice. We will exploit the close working relationships with our policing partners to disseminate our findings to practitioners and policy makers - in national government, local government and specialist organizations concerned with policing in ways which directly translate the implications of our findings into policy and practices for mitigating against toxic behaviours and outcomes within everyday encounters with police.