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WA State Justice Based Policing Initiative

The Seattle Police Department and the King County Sheriff’s Office have formed a unique partnership with the Washington State Criminal Justice Training Commission to develop a curriculum to improve the way police officers are trained to interact with people.  For the past decade, police training has focused on tools and physical tactics for keeping officers and citizens safe.  While these methods have improved the safety of both officers and citizens, they have done little to improve the public’s trust and confidence in their police.

For over 30 years, a compelling body of research has been emerging that shows public trust and confidence in police is not just a good public relations strategy.  It directly impacts lawful behavior and the willingness of residents to work with the police to solve crime and improve neighborhood safety.  Public trust also leads to greater cooperation and improves officer and citizen safety by reducing the necessity for police to resort to physical force to maintain order. 

The research also shows that public trust is not closely related to the crime rate, but rather is a direct result of the quality and outcomes of police interactions with the people they serve.  To improve public trust, we must improve the quality of those individual police interactions.

“Justice Based Policing” is an established terminology that simply describes the strategy officers will be trained to use during individual interactions on the street.  It is a logical extension of the Community Oriented Policing model that we have been working on for the past 20 years—and an opportunity to help move community policing, community relationships, and public safety to a new level.

This strategy employs four basic principles that have been extensively studied and validated to improve interpersonal contacts.  These four basic principles are the “Four Pillars” that define the concept and practice of Justice Based Policing.

L.E.E.D. represents the four pillars– and stands for Listen and Explain with Equity and Dignity.

The acronym was developed by King County Sheriff Sue Rahr as a practical way for officers to understand and apply the concept of Justice Based Policing– as well reinforce and define the behaviors and practices that make it real in the street.

The first two pillars of the LEED Model direct the officers in what to do, (Listen and Explain) the second two direct the officers in how to do it (with Equity and Dignity). 

These principles are so basic, and so obviously based on common sense, it hardly seems necessary to devote a training curriculum their study.  However, what has become increasingly clear is that during many police contacts on the street, the focus is primarily on physical tactics and quick resolution. 

The four principles have not been a strong enough focus of the total training of police officers historically. We need to address that now for the future of policing.  Because we know from a significant body of research that people who are not listened to, who don’t understand why an officer is taking action, who feel they are being unfairly targeted, and who feel disrespected, will grow to distrust police and will not cooperate with them and will be less likely to obey laws.  Over time, and across hundreds of interactions, public trust degrades.

“Research suggests that a procedural approach to citizen interaction may enhance the safety of both law enforcement officers and community residents. However, a procedural justice-based policing strategy doesn’t mean the police should not resort to the use of force when faced with a hostile individual. It simply means that to the extent that the police can elicit compliance without the use of force, the police officers, the institution of policing, and society in general will benefit greatly.” (Sunshine & Tyler, 2003).

The purpose of the Washington State Justice Based Policing Initiative is to build public trust by ensuring that every police officer, supervisor, and leader is trained to understand the power of following these four principles.  The initiative has two core challenges: to develop and employ these strategies into current policing organizational structures, and to develop and institutionalize a new curriculum around the LEED Model for future police training. 

The first step is to address our current environment. The King County Sheriff’s Office and the Seattle Police Department will reinforce LEED training by setting clear policy and practice requirements for how officers and leaders conduct personal interactions.  Implementation will include ongoing evaluation and monitoring conducted in partnership with Seattle University and other professional organizations at specific intervals to determine if police are following the LEED principles and to determine if pubic trust is improving. 

For developing a long term approach to applying the LEED Model, the Seattle Police Department, King County Sheriff’s Office, and the Washington State Criminal Justice Training Commission have submitted a joint grant application to the Department of Justice’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services requesting additional funding and technical assistance to ensure that the Justice Based Policing Initiative is not only successful in Washington State, but can be replicated in any police agency in the country. 

Early feedback from police leaders across the country has been very positive.  The partnership between SPD and KCSO, the two largest local police departments in Washington, and the State Training Commission, is considered extraordinary and unique in the entire country. 

The details of this initiative will be presented at the upcoming national conference of the Police Executive Research Forum, in Seattle, April 28-29, 2011.