Policing: An International Journal, Volume 40, Issue 3, Page 514-528, August 2017.
Purpose Procedural justice (PJ) during police-citizen interactions has often been portrayed as a “silver bullet” to good policing, as it could function as a means to gain trust, voluntary obedience and public cooperation. PJ research is based on the assumption that there exists “true fairness.” However, it is still unclear what people actually mean when they evaluate the police as “fair” in surveys. By focusing the analysis to underexplored aspects of PJ, namely, the identity and political antecedents of the attribution of procedural fairness, the authors highlight the social and ideological reasons that influence people’s perceptions of police fairness. The paper aims to discuss these issues. Design/methodology/approach In order to explain the attribution of fairness of police, the study comprises a range of independent variables organized into five overarching domains: prior experience with police, victimization, socioeconomic status and (disadvantaged) context of residence, ethnicity and political attitudes and punitive values. The analysis is based on a representative sample of France, as well as a booster sample of a deprived, urban province (Seine-Saint-Denis) in order to better incorporate ethnic effects into the model (March 2011; n=1.498, 18+). Findings The present study finds support for the notion that aggressive policing policies (police-initiated contacts, e.g. identification checks, road stops) negatively impacts attributions of fairness to police. In addition, the findings show that attributions of fairness are not only interactional (i.e. related to what police do in any given situation) or related to individual cognitive phenomena, but for the most part pertain to broader social and political explanations. Political and ethnic cleavages are the key to understanding how police are judged by the public. The findings therefore question the nature of what is actually measured when fairness is attributed to police, finding that more punitive and conservative respondents tend to assess the police as fair. The authors find that the attribution of fairness seems to correspond to upholding the existing social order. Research limitations/implications This study has limitations inherent to any cross-sectional survey and the findings pertain only to a single country (France). Furthermore, the authors did not analyze all possible confounding variables to perceived fairness. Social implications The findings pose a practical problem for police and government to implement, as the authors ultimately find that there is no single recipe, or “silver bullet,” for being deemed fair across all social, ethnic and political groups – and, of course, the expectations of one group might conflict with those of another. Originality/value The study demonstrates that existing theory needs to better incorporate those explanations of fairness which extend beyond interactional processes with police, and refer instead to the social and political cleavages in society.