ATLANTIC CITY — The city police department is partnering with criminal justice professors at Stockton University to train officers in implementing a new policy intended to have a long-lasting effect on civilian encounters.

It is known as "procedural justice," and weekly training sessions have already begun, according to Deputy Chief James Sarkos, interim officer in charge of ACPD.

"The idea behind procedural justice is that it aims to increase communications, transparency, trust and respect during the public's interactions with law enforcement," Sarkos said.

Stockton professors Nusrat Sahin and Bill McKnight, the latter a retired ACPD captain, are helping the department with training. Sarkos said involving the university was an obvious move to make, given its AC satellite campus and its origins within the city.

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Looking at things from a more academic point of view, Sarkos said, will cement the initiative's twin goals: to allow members of the public a chance to explain their side of the story when stopped by police, and to give law enforcement an equal chance to explain to those individuals why they are being stopped.

Sarkos said regardless of the outcome, a civilian ideally comes away with a full understanding of why an interaction happened.

"If the person gets no ticket, gets a ticket, gets arrested, if they feel like they were explained properly the reason why they (were) stopped, then we believe that the person walks away with greater respect for law enforcement," he said.

In the case of potential traffic violations, for instance, Sarkos said if an officer is able to present data from a study that showed increased accidents or other danger in the area, that may justify to a civilian the need for police involvement.

Members of law enforcement can place their motives too close to the vest, in Sarkos' estimation, and so the procedural justice policy is an opportunity for the ACPD officers to examine what they are doing and why, and to see if they can do it better.

"I think just looking at what's going on right now with law enforcement nationwide, we want to make sure that we're doing everything we can to present our profession well," he said.

While training is well underway, Sarkos expects it will take some time to initiate everyone in the department. However, he hopes to have the process completed by the second quarter of 2021.

If procedural justice gains more visibility and is successful, Sarkos wants ACPD to be viewed as a pioneer in its implementation.

"I think this is something that will be emulated and copied by other law enforcement agencies around the country when they see what we're doing here," he said.

Patrick Lavery is New Jersey 101.5's afternoon news anchor. Follow him on Twitter @plavery1015 or email patrick.lavery@townsquaremedia.com.

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