ScotCET and implementation failure 1. – An apparent implementation failure

As outlined in my earlier post, one of the key propositions in the procedural justice literature is that – at least in most Western countries – procedural justice has an outsized importance in shaping views regarding the police. Yet, there have been only a few studies that established a causal relationship between police practices and the perception of procedural justice (e.g., Lowrey et al., 2016; Sahin et al., 2016), and none, that has explored its mediating role (although see Mazerolle et al. (2013) who used a path analysis approach – more on this in another post). Thus, in my first paper, I decided to “pry open” the black box of causality, and investigate procedural justice’s causally mediating role.

To do so I utilised the ScotCET (Scottish Community Engagement Trial) dataset which was an RCT fielded during the Festive Road Safety Campaign in December 2013 and January 2014 (MacQueen and Bradford, 2015). This was a partial replication of an earlier study carried out by Mazerolle et al. (2013) which showed that during road side checks police officers who were trained to deliver procedurally just messages in Queensland Australia, improved people’s perception of the police. By contrast, MacQueen and Bradford (2017) found an unexpected opposite effect: those officers who were requested to deliver procedurally just messages actually damaged people’s views about the police compared to those officers who could carry on with their usual behaviour.

In a subsequent study, MacQueen and Bradford (2017) revisited this puzzling finding by organising focus groups with the participating officers. They found among others, that these officers were not briefed properly which was exasperated by the fact that the study coincided with a very unpopular organisational reform in the Scottish police force (hence, the experiment was taken by many as another affront to their professionalism). Moreover, these officers signalled discontent and negativity towards the RCT, and reported varying levels of implementation fidelity (some completely disregarding the training, others reciting the messages verbatim etc.). Despite these problems, MacQueen and Bradford still maintained that:

“The data gathered successfully captured the outcome of the experimental intervention, and the robust design and internal validity of the ScotCET experiment assures us that the negative effects observed within our experiment group can be directly attributed to the intervention, or factors associated with the intervention.” (MacQueen and Bradford, 2017, 324.pp.)

This seems like a very strong claim for an RCT plagued by apparent implementation failure. How can one assess the validity of this claim? The upcoming two posts will attempt to answer this question.

Lowrey, Belén V., Edward R. Maguire, and Richard R. Bennett. 2016. “Testing the Effects of Procedural Justice and Overaccommodation in Traffic Stops: A Randomized Experiment.” Criminal Justice and Behavior 43(10):1430–49.
MacQueen, Sarah and Ben Bradford. 2015. “Enhancing Public Trust and Police Legitimacy during Road Traffic Encounters: Results from a Randomised Controlled Trial in Scotland.” Journal of Experimental Criminology 11(3):419–43.
MacQueen, Sarah and Ben Bradford. 2017. “Where Did It All Go Wrong? Implementation Failure—and More—in a Field Experiment of Procedural Justice Policing.” Journal of Experimental Criminology 13(3):321–45.
Mazerolle, Lorraine, Emma Antrobus, Sarah Bennett, and Tom R. Tyler. 2013. “Shaping Citizen Perceptions of Police Legitimacy: A Randomized Field Trial of Procedural Justice.” Criminology 51(1):33–63.
Sahin, Nusret, Anthony A. Braga, Robert Apel, and Rod K. Brunson. 2017. “The Impact of Procedurally-Just Policing on Citizen Perceptions of Police During Traffic Stops: The Adana Randomized Controlled Trial.” Journal of Quantitative Criminology 33(4):701–26.

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