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Determinants of Citizen Complaints Against Police Abuse of Power

NCJ Number
Journal of Criminal Justice Volume: 28 Issue: 3 Dated: May/June 2000 Pages: 203-213
Date Published
11 pages

Both Wilson (1968) and Lundman (1980) suggested that organizational behavior and characteristics were potentially related to the citizen complaint rate against the police; the research reported in this article tested their theories.


From Wilson's professionalism control thesis, a number of testable propositions were developed. The first hypothesis is that psychological exams taken before admission to a police academy, the length of academic training, and field-training officer programs tend to reduce citizen complaints about police abuse of power. A second hypothesis is that increasing the number of in-service training programs on the use of force, strengthening the reporting requirement on the use of force, instituting a written policy on the use of less-than-lethal force, initiating a clinic requirement for filing complaints, and close supervision are negatively related to the citizen complaint rate. From Lundman's organizational product thesis, two hypotheses were developed: (1) Establishing civilian review boards reduces the citizen complaint rate; and (2) The composition of a police department's personnel is related to the citizen complaint rate. To test these hypotheses, the data collected by Pate and Fridell (1993) were reanalyzed. The data were designed to be a comprehensive national survey of law enforcement agencies' official records on police abuse of power. This study focused on citizen complaints against police abuse of power in the areas of unlawful arrest/detention, illegal search or seizure, harassment and intimidation, misuse of authority, and improper language. The analyses apparently provide some support for both Wilson's and Lundman's theses. Findings show that both organizational behavior and organizational characteristics were related to the citizens' complaint rate. 4 notes, 2 tables, and 69 references

Date Published: January 1, 2000