The Poughkeepsie City Police Department’s Procedural Justice Committee aims to foster a relationship between police and community leaders to encourage transparency and improve community relations.
- Agency: Poughkeepsie Police Department1
- Location: Poughkeepsie, N.Y.
- Department size: Large (>50 officers)
- Program started October 2019
Police legitimacy – the extent to which the public views the police as legitimate, legal authorities – is a growing issue within communities in the state and country. The Poughkeepsie Police Department partnered with the Marist Center for Social Justice Research at Marist College to survey community residents about their attitudes regarding the police. The results, which showed varying levels of satisfaction with, and trust in, the police prompted the Poughkeepsie Police Department to seek new ways to address the community’s perception of the agency and police legitimacy.
In 2019, the Poughkeepsie Police Department created the Poughkeepsie Procedural Justice Committee to facilitate deeper connections, improve communication, support cooperative relationships, and improve relationships between residents and police officers in the city. The department developed the committee using the four central principles of procedural justice – opportunities for voice, neutrality in decision making, respect in treatment, and trustworthiness in actions and motives – that are taught to police officers during training by state-certified procedural justice instructors. During these trainings, officers gain a deeper understanding of police legitimacy and how to build better relationships within the communities they serve. Poughkeepsie currently has two procedural justice instructors and all current and incoming Poughkeepsie police officers are trained in procedural justice principles.
To develop the committee, organizers within the police department presented the idea to Poughkeepsie’s mayor and city council members, who then identified individuals representing various constituencies and parts of the city as potential members. Many civilian members of the committee participated in other community-based or civil rights groups within the city. Police committee members were identified as either procedural justice instructors within the department or Poughkeepsie police officers who live in the city and have a dual perspective of understanding the police viewpoint and conditions within the community. A representative from the police union also was included in the committee.
While there are no other specific criteria for committee membership, participants must have an open mind, be receptive to other viewpoints, and be willing to have difficult conversations.
The committee has 30 members: 20 from the community and 10 from the police department, with eight to 15 attending any given meeting. The committee meets once a month for two hours at the police station in a roundtable format. There are two co-chairs (one procedural justice instructor and one community member) who prepare for and moderate the meeting. Members are required to stay active on the committee. If individuals miss several consecutive meetings or do not participate in the meetings, committee chairs ask them to step down and fill the vacancy. There are no time limits on committee membership.
Meeting topics can vary. During meetings that occurred shortly after the committee’s formation, members discussed past incidents or issues the community experienced with police to explore and gain understanding about those interactions. More recent meetings have focused on current events, some local and occasionally, those at the national level. The agenda may feature specific topics, but conversation is often free-flowing and organic. The main purposes of the meetings are for police officers and citizens to hear each other’s perspectives on issues or events that have occurred and to think creatively about how to bring people together. For example, community members have hosted block parties and invited police as guests, and police have shown videos describing why specific policies are in place.
Additionally, the committee may review incidents or policies inhibiting positive police-community relations and make recommendations for change to the police chief. For example, the committee discussed civilian complaints that are submitted to police. Previously, police responded to a civilian complaint by indicating only whether a complaint was founded or unfounded; no additional information was provided about the investigation of the complaint. This limited response left community members feeling dissatisfied and unheard. Police committee members discussed this issue with the police chief and, as a result, more information about these investigations and how the outcome was reached is now provided in the letter responding to the individual who filed the complaint.
The Poughkeepsie Police Department supports the Procedural Justice Committee within their existing resources. Committee members volunteer their time.
Program Reviews or Evaluations
No formal review or evaluation has been performed on Poughkeepsie’s Procedural Justice Committee.
Research suggests that incorporating procedural justice principles into police-resident interactions promotes positive organizational change, fosters good relations with the community, and enhances safety for officers and the public.
Police-community relations that reflect mutual trust between police and community members are critical to maintaining public safety and effective policing. While police officers rely on the cooperation of community members to provide information about crime in their neighborhoods, community members’ willingness to trust the police depends on whether they believe that police actions reflect community values and incorporate the principles of procedural justice and legitimacy.
Critical Success Factors
- Finding the right members for the committee is a critical part of the process. The members should reflect diverse perspectives to facilitate meaningful conversations among the committee members.
- Being open to other's ideas and beliefs, so topics can be accurately and safely discussed, is essential.
- Enlisting a strong meeting co-chair or moderator with group facilitation skills will help the group navigate difficult topics and heightened emotions. For example, procedural justice instructors have experience and training in defusing disputes and moderating disagreements in a productive way.
- All members should have the common goal of helping to improve the community. This motivation to serve and make a positive difference should be considered when selecting committee members.
- The committee should be a reflection of the community it aims to improve and feature a diverse group of participants. The demographic makeup of the committee was broadened to ensure representation of black, Latino, LGBTQ+, and youth community members.
- The most productive and constructive conversations often follow a challenging or adversarial conversation during which the committee provides space to hear all differing opinions. This helps gain the trust of the overall committee.
- Breaking into smaller groups may be helpful to facilitate a difficult conversation if a roundtable format of the full committee is not working.
- In March 2020, the Poughkeepsie Procedural Justice Committee stopped meeting for several months due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Members considered meeting virtually but felt the sensitive topics covered during committee meetings warranted in-person discussion. The Committee also assisted with the review of Poughkeepsie’s police reform plan, which was required by Executive Order 203. In-person committee meetings are expected to begin again in Spring 2021.
- Also in 2021, Committee organizers plan to encourage non-police members to attend:
- An eight-hour training on procedural justice and police legitimacy. This training will have the same content that is taught to all Poughkeepsie police officers.
- A quick-decision training (Reality-Based Training or Firearm-Training Simulator), which offers the opportunity for non-police members to experience the stress and consequences of quick reactions on the job.