Answers to “You Decide” Boxes

Suggested answers to “You Decide” boxes in the text provide a well-researched rationale behind the recommended response to key issues facing the law enforcement profession.

It has been argued that police trust and legitimacy is important if the police wish to maximize citizen perceptions of fairness and, thus, the legitimacy of their actions. Research has indicated that procedural justice in police–citizen encounters is a key foundational ingredient in developing legitimacy. To that end, procedural justice scholars have noted four key components: (1) citizens given a voice/participation in the process/action; (2) neutrality—citizens tend to view a situation as more fair when officers are transparent about why they are resolving a particular situation in a certain way; (3) people want to be treated with dignity and respect; and (4) citizens will often view action taken as more fair if the officer exhibits genuine concern for the interests of the persons involved. Additionally, research has indicated that when the police utilize these procedural justice strategies, citizens are more likely to comply because they see the law and police actions as more legitimate (Center for Evidence-Based Crime Policy, 2018).

In most states, it could be stated that the officer in this scenario has acted legally, as people who do not have their license in their possession should not be driving and could technically be arrested. Even though ignorance of the law is no excuse, the driver may not see this action as fair, legitimate, or procedurally just because the officer spent no time “giving voice” to, or listening to the person’s situation (even if the situation is irrelevant, given that driving without a license is still against the law), or offering information regarding how the person can go about recovering the vehicle.

Given the information in this scenario, students may answer yes to question 1, which would be partially correct: The officer’s action is, indeed, lawful. However, it does little to ensure perceptions of trust or fairness.

Although it could be argued that this situation may be minor in comparison to many types of police encounters, most citizens’ first (and often only) contact with the police is during a traffic stop. Therefore, the citizen’s impressions from that encounter can be lasting ones. The impact could not only directly affect that person’s perceptions of law enforcement beyond the individual officer, but it could also have a negative impact on the perceptions of the person’s friends, family, and any others to whom he or she relays details of this experience.

Following the key principles of procedural justice, the officer could have improved on the situation by doing things such as politely asking the driver why he or she was driving without a license. Even if the officer chose to proceed with impounding the vehicle, the driver would have been allowed to explain the situation (“giving voice” to the situation). Next, the officer could have respectfully explained why he or she was unable to allow the driver to continue on (citing the law, department policy, potential danger to other drivers on the road, etc.) while also highlighting the fact that an arrest would have been allowable, yet he or she chose not to do so for _“X”_ reason. If time allowed, the officer could have offered to assist in contacting a ride for the driver, or could have provided one to a safe place to wait for a ride, if policy allowed for that action. (Some agencies do not allow for officers to provide private transports. If this were the case, the officer need only to explain that.) Finally, the officer could have readily explained where the vehicle was being towed to (that is, providing the name and number of the towing company), and the proper procedure for retrieving the vehicle. (For example, was an impound form required first? How might that be obtained?)

Each of the aforementioned suggestions would readily fit into a procedurally just manner of handling the situation. Such an approach might avoid arguments between the citizen and the officer that could lead to the use of disrespectful language on the part of both parties, which could, in turn, unnecessarily escalate the situation (Walker, 2015). Additionally, citizens’ perceptions do matter and have the potential to significantly impact a police agency’s ability to achieve its goals. The time it takes to incorporate procedurally just practices into everyday police activities can go a long way toward strengthening the bonds of trust in the communities police serve and increase residents’ respect for police authority (Police Executive Research Forum, 2014).


Center for Evidence-Based Crime Policy. (2018). Community policing and procedural justice. Retrieved from

Police Executive Research Forum. (2014). Legitimacy and procedural justice: A new element of police leadership. Retrieved from

Walker, S. (2015). Statement to the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing. Retrieved from