Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Procedural Justice: Taking The Ego Out Of Policing


Now, we're going to take a look at a city in California and an effort to repair the trust between police and the populations they serve. And it comes down to something called procedural justice. The city of Oakland has been teaching police about this strategy for years already. State officials are hoping it can be a model for other police departments. We spoke with Officer Kyle Hay of the Oakland Police Department, and he explained that procedural justice is all about communication. And four basic principles - voice, he says that's the ability for the citizen to have their say; neutrality, respect and lastly, transparency. I asked him to give me an example of how the program helps police officers overcome their own biases.

OFFICER KYLE HAY: I'll speak to one for sure - very simple, like a car stop, for example, where you pull somebody over and the person doesn't agree with why you stopped them. For example, say it's a stop sign. And instead of understanding where I'm coming from and trying to explain to them the process of why I pulled them over, you know, the whole time they're, you know, yelling at me or they're upset that I even pulled them over for, you know, whatever reason. And my bias comes in like, OK, you're going to combat me, well, now I'm going to combat you as well almost to where it's like a contempt-a-cop type thing. And to where, you know, I have the ability to write somebody a citation for whatever violation I see fit, so I take it upon myself to go ahead and give them all the violations that I see fit and/or maybe, possibly tow their vehicle.

MARTIN: So there's a little bit of a punitive thing comes in - like, if someone makes you angry in the course of that, then the situation can escalate.

HAY: Right. You know, it's that idea of, you know, I have the right to do what I'm doing, but why am I doing it? You know, am I doing it because I'm within my law enforcement right to do so? Or am I doing it because I'm angry or upset with the person to where maybe I would have given a warning, but now I'm giving somebody a - you know, a full citation or possibly towing their vehicle just because of their attitude.

MARTIN: Yeah. So can you walk me through how you should do this? If you're using this idea of procedural justice in that same traffic stop, how would the conversation be different?

Sponsor Message

HAY: Well, you know, I believe it's just taking yourself out of that moment, understanding that, you know, they're coming at you because of what you represent, you know, your uniform because of who you are. And they don't understand exactly that this is Kyle Hay, you know, they see Officer Hay. And understanding that and just taking yourself out of the equation and kind of understanding that, you know, I represent law enforcement as a whole. You know, my actions could possibly affect everybody else in law enforcement across the country as we've seen with recent unfortunate events.

MARTIN: You know, you've been working on this for a while. I wonder how you have absorbed the news stories of the past months as you have seen the tension between communities of color, in particular, and police forces, what happened in Ferguson, Mo., with the death of Michael Brown, in a string of other similar incidents - understanding each case is obviously different, the facts on the ground are different. But as someone who has worked to defuse that tension, have you seen these cases unfold and thought to yourself, oh, this is how the program I'm working on - this is how procedural justice could have helped?

HAY: We do talk about some of those things. We all have been in a situation where a subject or a citizen, a community member or a suspect has been combative. And what are some of the steps that we can do to maybe slow a situation down, gain some distance away from that person just so we can do just that - just slow things down.

It reminds me of an incident I had out in East Oakland where the call came in that there was one male chasing another male with a firearm in the street. And when we pulled up on scene, my partner and I - I did see a young, African-American male holding what looked like a pistol and pointing it at another male - African-American male running into a house. And so when I jumped out of the vehicle, I looked at him, and I could see that he was only about 15, 14 years old. And my immediate thought was, I need to protect the other male that was possibly being shot at or in some type of aggressive situation. And when that kid looked at me, I immediately believed that the gun he had was fake. And thank God for everybody it actually was. And he complied with what I was asking him to do. He dropped the fake, plastic firearm. And the other person was actually his older brother. And they were just basically playing cap guns in the street.

And I took a moment to sit there and talk to him, and his mother came out, and I talked to his mother. Obviously, his wasn't too excited about us all being there. We had probably about eight or nine officers there, about four or five cars out in front of her house, which could be embarrassing. And ultimately, just explained to her, you know, hey, we have a situation where something looks like it isn't, and it could have went in a completely wrong fashion, you know. But because he took the time to realize that I wasn't trying to be aggressive towards him and just needed him to do what I needed him to do, it made everything work out for the best. You might not be able to use procedural justice in a moment like that. But now that everything's done, you know, everything is said to where now the mother's came out, everybody is kind of gathered in a circle, that's your time for procedural justice to explain to them, hey, look, thank you for listening to my commands, you know, because, ultimately, this is why I had to do what I had to do. And I appreciate the fact that can come to some type of mutual agreement so nothing - where nothing escalated.

MARTIN: Officer Kyle Hay is with the Oakland Police Department. He joined me from the studios at Berkeley School of Journalism. Thanks so much for talking with us.

HAY: Thank you, ma'am. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.