Citizen complaints and problem officers. Examining officer behavior

William Terrill, John McCluskey

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

50 Scopus citations


Citizen complaints toward the police are generally understood to represent the identification of problem officers. Citizen complaints, however, may actually be an indicator of officer productivity. Officers who receive repeated complaints may not actually be so-called problem officers, but rather productive officers. This calls into question the inherent meaning of citizen complaints. This article examines the relationship between citizen complaints and officer behavior in day-to-day encounters with the public. High-complaint officers are compared to low-complaint officers to determine how their behavior differs. Partial support for both conceptions toward the meaning of citizen complaints is found. Officers with high complaint histories concerning excessive force and discourtesy engage in these behaviors more readily than those with few to no complaints for such activities. Such officers, however, are also more likely to engage and question suspected law breakers, bolstering the productivity argument. The implications of these findings are considered.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)143-155
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Criminal Justice
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2002
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Applied Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Law


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