Procedural Justice in Homicide and Shooting Scene Response

Police play a critical role in reducing community violence, and police conduct can make or break community trust, which in turn can affect police legitimacy. This is particularly true in high-crime, low-income areas that are heavily policed. Establishing community-police trust is especially pertinent in the context of homicides and shootings, where police interactions with community members could mitigate or exacerbate trauma, and elicit or deter the witness cooperation necessary to solve the crime. Research suggests that when police interact with community members in a procedurally just manner, the quality of police-community interactions is improved, as is the delivery of public safety. Procedurally just policing includes four principles: treating people with dignity and respect; allowing them to express their views; being neutral and transparent in decisionmaking; and conveying trustworthy motives. Though a large and growing body of research empirically supports procedural justice’s value in community-police interactions, few studies have explored procedural justice principles in response to homicides and shootings.

In 2017, Urban Institute partnered with the Urban Peace Institute to advise the Oakland Police Department in assessing its own policies and procedures in response to homicides and shootings and developing and implementing protocols and trainings to operationalize procedural justice. This work resulted in three publications:

  • Procedural Justice in Homicide and Shooting Scene Response: Executive Summary - This report synthesizes findings from a scan of practice on police interactions with community members at homicide and shooting scenes, as well as from interviews with Oakland stakeholders on their experiences with homicide and shooting scene response. Drawing on interviews and focus groups with shooting survivors, family members of homicide victims, police personnel, and community partners in Oakland, California and across the US, this report offers guidelines for adopting a procedurally just approach to shooting scene response.
  • Responding to Homicide and Shooting Scenes: A Review of Procedurally Just Practice in the US - This report summarizes findings from a national review of practice regarding police interactions with the community at shooting and homicide scenes. Based on interviews and focus groups with police personnel and community partners representing nine jurisdictions across the nation, this review concludes that procedurally just conduct at shooting scenes requires departments to establish a uniform vision of community engagement, build capacity and training infrastructure to ground procedural justice concepts and practices in the department, and forge authentic partnerships with community leaders and community-based agencies before, during, and after such events.
  • Oakland Stakeholder Perspectives of Homicide and Shooting Scene Response - This report explores how stakeholders involved in homicide and shooting scenes in Oakland, California perceive their interactions with law enforcement and community partners. This study draws on interviews with shooting survivors, family members of homicide victims, Oakland Police Department officers, and community service providers and partner staff. It found that survivors and family members desired interactions with law enforcement officers and community partners that aligned with procedural justice principles, but they did not always perceive that they received it.

The findings from this compilation of reports can inform researchers, practitioners, and policymakers alike by sharing the experiences of those who are most affected by shootings and homicides in a city that experiences challenges common to many law enforcement agencies around the country, and offering actionable guidance police departments can use to operationalize procedural justice principles in homicide and shooting scenes.