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Citizen Complaints Against the Police: An Eight City Examination

NCJ Number
Police Quarterly Volume: 19 Issue: 2 Dated: June 2016 Pages: 150-179
Date Published
June 2016
30 pages
Building on prior research involving citizen complaints against the police, the current inquiry adds to the literature by examining citizen complaint data from eight U.S. cities by assessing the distribution of complaints and dispositions, along with the relationship between officer- and citizen-based characteristics; in addition, it examined the extent to which varying types of investigatory models (e.g., internal affairs, command level, and external civilian oversight) influence whether complaints are found to have merit (i.e., sustained complaints).
In accordance with prior research, the current study found that a small percentage of officers accounted for a disproportionate percentage of total complaints, excessive force and discourtesy were often the most common allegations lodged, and younger officers and those with less experience generally received a greater number of complaints. Adding to the literature, this study found substantial variation across agencies with respect to the raw number of complaints generated, the extent to which use of force and discourtesy complaints accounted for the total number of complaints overall, and the extent to which various agencies sustained complaints. Further, the study found that male and non-White complainants were more likely to lodge use of force allegations, with Black complainants less likely to have their complaints sustained. Moreover, cities where the police internal affairs unit served as the investigatory entity, but had their outcome decisions (i.e., dispositions) reviewed by an external civilian oversight agency, were significantly more likely to sustain complaints. (Publisher abstract modified)

Date Published: June 1, 2016