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Departmental and Citizen Complaints as Predictors of Police Coercion

NCJ Number
Policing: An International Journal of Police Strategies & Management Volume: 28 Issue: 3 Dated: 2005 Pages: 513-529
Date Published
17 pages

This study examined a variety of measures of citizen complaints against police and their link to police officers' use of coercion in encounters with suspects.


Data were collected in St. Petersburg, FL, during the summer of 1997 as part of the Project on Policing Neighborhoods. Patrol observation was conducted in 12 beats, with the beat sample varying in levels of socioeconomic distress, measured as the sum of the percentages of families with children headed by a single female, the unemployed adult populations, and the population below 50 percent of the poverty level. At the time of the study, the St. Petersburg Police Department was accepting anonymous complaints; however, in the course of an investigation of the complaint, citizens were required to give a notarized statement. An outside civilian component was not included in decisionmaking regarding complaints. The study recorded the number and type of complaints received by each officer during the 5 years prior to observations in the summer of 1997. Observers recorded officer contacts with approximately 5,500 citizens. In such observations, police coercion was defined as acts that threatened or inflicted physical harm on citizens. The level of coercion exerted was distinguished in observation data. The analyses found that after controlling for other important predictors, an officer's complaint rate for force and verbal rudeness was linked to higher levels of coercion observed in encounters with suspects. The analyses also found that officers' complaint rate for verbal rudeness was associated with higher levels of coercion, but complaint rates for physical force were not related to higher levels of coercion in observations. These findings suggest that police departments could reduce citizen complaints by focusing on behavioral modification training for officers who receive frequent complaints for rudeness in their encounters with citizens. 3 tables, 7 notes, and 46 references

Date Published: January 1, 2005