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Explaining procedural justice during police-suspect encounters: A systematic social observation study

John D. McCluskey (Department of Criminal Justice, Rochester Institute of Technology, Rochester, New York, USA)
Michael Reisig (Arizona State University, Tempe, Arizona, USA)

Policing: An International Journal

ISSN: 1363-951X

Article publication date: 21 August 2017




The purpose of this paper is to develop and test a series of hypotheses regarding the use of procedurally just policing during suspect encounters.


Systematic social observation data from police encounters with suspects are used (N=939). Ordinary least-squares regression models are estimated to evaluate the effects of four variable clusters (i.e. suspect self-presentation, situational factors, suspect social characteristics, and officer characteristics) on procedurally just policing practices.


Results from the regression models show that the most salient predictors of police officers exercising authority in a procedurally just manner include the level of self-control displayed by suspects, the number of citizen onlookers, whether the encounter involved a traffic problem, the race/ethnicity of suspects, and suspects’ social status.

Research limitations/implications

This study focused only on police-suspects encounters where compliance requests were made. While the size of the sample is relatively large, the results from this study do not generalize to all types of police encounters with members of the public.


This research adds to an emerging body of research focused on predicting procedurally just practices in police encounters. The findings support increased attention to theories that explain police-citizens interactions, and also indicate that further consideration to the measurement of police behavior is warranted.



This paper is based on data from the POPN, directed by Stephen D. Mastrofski, Roger B. Parks, Albert J. Reiss Jr, and Robert E. Worden. The project was supported by Grant No. 95-IJ-CX-0071 by the National Institute of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, US Department of Justice. Points of view in this document are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official position or policies of the US Department of Justice.


McCluskey, J.D. and Reisig, M. (2017), "Explaining procedural justice during police-suspect encounters: A systematic social observation study", Policing: An International Journal, Vol. 40 No. 3, pp. 574-586.



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Copyright © 2017, Emerald Publishing Limited

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