A Reassessment of the Process-Based Model of Policing: Filling Three Major Gaps

Kiseong Kuen

Advisor: David Weisburd, PhD, Department of Criminology, Law and Society

Committee Members: David B. Wilson, Devon Johnson, Cody W. Telep

Online Location, Online
April 04, 2024, 10:00 AM to 12:00 PM


The process-based model of policing, which focuses on enhancing procedural justice and police legitimacy, has emerged as the key theoretical framework for understanding police-community relations. Much research supports the model, finding that procedurally fair interactions between police and citizens improve police legitimacy, thereby enhancing people’s willingness to cooperate with the police. However, an increasing number of studies have identified measurement issues surrounding procedural justice and police legitimacy. Furthermore, much of the research relies on cross-sectional data, limiting the ability to examine their relationships over time. Lastly, research has rarely examined how these perceptions affect community members’ actual cooperation, as opposed to their willingness. This dissertation by articles addresses these research gaps by focusing on (1) measurement issues in defining procedural justice and police legitimacy, (2) the reciprocal relationship between the two perceptions over time, and (3) the impacts of these perceptions on people’s reporting of a neighborhood problem to the police.

In Study 1, employing a systematic review approach for survey items and results of factor analysis across 143 eligible studies, I first found that the literature employs highly varied measures for the same constructs. Importantly, a large percentage of survey items for procedural justice (30%) and trust in the police (37%) used in the literature are those originally used to operationalize other constructs. This study also found that approximately 30% of the studies have discriminant validity issues, demonstrating that the measurement issues are not uncommon in the literature. The findings suggest that the conceptualization and operationalization of procedural justice and police legitimacy likely require further refinement. To examine the reciprocal relationship between procedural justice and police legitimacy over time, Study 2 used a cross-lagged panel analysis with three waves of surveys largely drawn from crime hot spots in Baltimore City, MD. Study 2 found little evidence of the effect of previous perceptions of procedural justice on future perceptions of police legitimacy, while finding some evidence of the reverse effect of prior police legitimacy on future procedural justice. Notably, this study found that perceptions of procedural justice and police legitimacy were each largely shaped by their own previous perceptions. The findings suggest that the strong association between these two perceptions found in the literature may stem from an overreliance on cross-sectional data and analyses. Applying mixed-effects logistic regression models to the same survey data, Study 3 examined longitudinal impacts of procedural justice and police legitimacy on community members’ reporting a problem in their neighborhood to the police. The results show limited support for the process-based model. While it was found that previous perceptions of police legitimacy significantly increased people’s reporting behavior, there was no evidence of either a direct or indirect impact of prior perceptions of procedural justice on reporting a problem to the police. The results of Study 3 challenge the widely held belief that enhancing police procedural justice will invariably lead to increased public cooperation with the police.

Overall, findings from this dissertation call for a reconsideration of the process-based model, demonstrating the need for substantive improvements in their measurements and methodological advancements in testing the model. This dissertation suggests that police practitioners and policymakers need to recognize that integrating procedural justice principles into police practices may not be a panacea for enhancing people’s perceptions of police legitimacy and their actual cooperation with the police in the long run.