Citizen Complaints Against the Police: An Eight City Examination

William Terrill, Jason R. Ingram

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    73 Scopus citations


    Building on prior research involving citizen complaints, the current inquiry seeks to add to the literature by examining citizen complaint data from eight U.S. cities. We assess the distribution of complaints and dispositions, along with the relationship between officer- and citizen-based characteristics. Further, we examine 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 line with prior research, we 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, we 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. We also 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.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Pages (from-to)150-179
    Number of pages30
    JournalPolice Quarterly
    Issue number2
    StatePublished - Jun 2015


    • accountability
    • citizen complaints
    • discourtesy
    • disrespect
    • use of force

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)
    • Law


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