Departmental and citizen complaints as predictors of police coercion

John D. McCluskey, William Terrill

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

59 Scopus citations


Purpose - This paper seeks to examine a variety of measures of complaints and their relationship to police officers' use of coercion in encounters with suspects. Design/methodology/approach - Data from the Project on Policing Neighborhoods, involving the systematic social observation of police, were combined with complaint data from the St Petersburg Police Department to examine the influence of complaints on use of coercion in everyday encounters. Hierarchical models, which included theoretically relevant control variables, were used to test multiple measures of departmental and citizen complaints as predictors of officers' use of coercion. Findings - The analyses indicate that, net of other important predictors, officer complaint rate for force and verbal discourtesy is associated with higher levels of coercion in encounters with suspects. The analyses also indicate that officers' verbal discourtesy complaint rate is associated with higher levels of coercion, but complaint rates for physical force are not related to higher levels of coercion. Research limitations/implications - The current results do not necessarily generalize to all police departments, since the department, at that time, was a leader in community policing. Practical implications - The influence of complaints for force and discourtesy on coercion suggests that police departments could benefit from greater attention toward officers who generate complaints for discourtesy from the public. Originality/value - This paper examines the utility of official complaint data as a determinant of officers' coercive behavior in encounters with suspects. The research would be of interest to police executives concerned with creating "early warning systems" as well as police scholars concerned with the determinants of officer coercion.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)513-529
Number of pages17
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2005
Externally publishedYes


  • Complaints
  • Police

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pathology and Forensic Medicine
  • Public Administration
  • Law


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