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The singular focus on procedural justice police reform is dangerous. Procedurally just law enforcement encounters provide an empirically proven subjective sense of fairness and legitimacy, while obscuring substantively unjust outcomes emanating from a fundamentally unjust system. The deceptive simplicity of procedural justice – that a polite cop is a lawful cop – promotes a false consciousness among would-be reformers that progress has been made, evokes a false sense of legitimacy divorced from objective indicia of lawfulness or morality, and claims the mantle of “reform” in the process. It is not just that procedural justice is a suboptimal type of reform; it is the type of reform that actively frustrates other reforms by dressing up policing with the perception of correctness and legitimacy.

And yet, procedural justice dominates police reform policy. Virtually all current federally funded police reform proposals support procedural justice trainings to the exclusion of proposals to address police brutality, eliminate discriminatory overpolicing, demilitarize departments, and end qualified immunity. As a result, a growing procedural justice industrial complex has taken shape. This multilayered public-private partnership between government agencies, academic institutions, and for-profit training companies increasingly helps police departments “protect their brand” and “reduce liability” through procedural politeness, while requiring no changes to unlawful, unnecessary, and violent police behavior.

This Article provides the first comprehensive account of this growing complex, charting its roots in community policing and evolving into a cottage industry of private, for-profit purveyors offering costly procedural justice trainings to departments flush with federal grant money. This Article also challenges the dominant scholarly narrative supporting these procedural justice policies, interrogating its role in promoting unnecessary ubiquitous police presence and justifying new racially discriminatory practices like “hot spots policing” and “precision policing.” In doing so, the Article applies these process-oriented critiques to five substantive police reform proposals, exploring how this singular focus on procedural justice distinctly frustrates more necessary transformative reforms in the areas of discriminatory policing, police brutality, police accountability, legal reform, and police abolition.