‘Procedural Justice’: A day at CPD’s sensitivity-training course

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Englewood resident Quentin Mables listens to Loop resident Robbin Carroll during a class at the Chicago Police Education and Training Academy. | Leslie Adkins/For the Sun-Times.

The first thing you notice, arriving at the Chicago Police Training Academy, is that it’s teeming with cadets. The Near West Side facility is the busiest it’s been in awhile, with the police department ramping up efforts to hire 1,000 new officers.

Cadets in the halls walk in formation and politely greet every person in chorus. Rookie training lectures are loud enough to hear as you pass open classrooms.

But inside this classroom, the door is closed.

All efforts are made to provide a safe space for students inside to explore themes in “Procedural Justice.”

The term refers to the way police interact with the public; how those interactions shape the public’s view of police and their view of the legitimacy of police authority; and then how that shapes the public’s willingness to obey the law.

As evidence mounts that the community’s perception can significantly impact public safety, procedural justice has become a buzz term in policing.

There are no rookies in this classroom, all veteran officers. Today, a few everyday citizens and a couple of reporters, including me, join them.

Against the backdrop of a U.S. Department of Justice report finding a pattern of racially discriminatory conduct, excessive force, deficient training and lax punishment of cops, the police department is trying to showcase an aspect of police training it says it’s doing well.

The scathing 161-page report describes Chicago Police rookie training as grossly outdated and poorly taught, but the Justice Department’s National Initiative for Building Community Trust has promoted CPD’s procedural-justice curriculum as a national model.

Some 11,294 Chicago cops have taken the course since the department began offering it in 2012. That’s virtually the entire police force.

The course is based on four tenets:

Voice is about actively listening during community interactions.

Neutrality is about acting with fairness during those interactions.

Respect, in essence, is about the Golden Rule.

And trustworthiness, gaining the community’s trust, is the payoff.

On this day, four veteran CPD instructors, Said Wasim, Alfred Ferreira, Angel Novalez and Dina Patterson, are teaching the course.

Community members, as is the case today, are occasionally brought in to take the course with police — each to glean other’s perspective.

Police officers Samuel Angel and Kelly McBride, chat before the start of the afternoon session of Procedural Justice and Police Legitimacy class. | Leslie Adkins/For the Sun-Times

Police officers Samuel Angel and Kelly McBride, chat before the start of the afternoon session of Procedural Justice and Police Legitimacy class. | Leslie Adkins/For the Sun-Times

There are nine officers — some in patrol, others detectives and a supervisor. Two are women: one black, one white. Of seven men, six are white, one Latino. Three are from the Addison Police Department in the west suburbs, which is typical for this type of training. State law requires all police officers in Illinois to get training in procedural justice.

A Northern Illinois University police department instructor is observing the course. He will take what he learns back to DeKalb, just as have police in other cities.

Community members include three white women; an Asian man; and two black men — one a senior citizen and one a Millennial.

Through lecture, slideshow and discussion, trainers take the eclectic group through four “modules” hammering home the four principles. Police Supt. Eddie Johnson sits in for the first.

The second module, “Legitimacy,” which the DOJ report says has been undermined at CPD by racist practices, was interesting. Police and community members listed their expectations of the other during interactions. Surprisingly, there were commonalities.

Also interesting was the body language of discomfort on both sides during the final module, “Historical and Generational Effects of Policing,” covering painful Civil Rights era images of police attacking peaceful protesters, or smiling under trees where black bodies hung in lynchings.

Both sides at times spoke freely, at times, not. When officers were asked if they could admit some bad acts by fellow officers have caused the community distrust, there was radio silence. They were similarly silent when asked whether, as individuals, they could accept authority from someone mistreating them.

Heated discussion ensued between the Millennial and one officer over whether some traffic-stop procedures the Millennial experienced were a violation of his rights. Another officer expressed frustration that all police have been painted the same since the first videotaped incidents of abuse. Another officer maintained the spotlight on police is misplaced, saying the real focus should be on the killers of 780-plus people murdered in 2016.

According to a 2015 study by Northwestern University’s Institute for Policy Research, the course has been successful in changing many officers’ views of the importance of those four principles in their work. The same study found black officers more embracing of them, however, than their white peers.

The DOJ report will require wholesale reforms to CPD training. But in this room on this day, the Procedural Justice course was shining a light in dark places, forcing self-reflection and awakening consciousness.

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