Citizen Complaints Against the Police: An Eight City Examination

William Terrill, Jason R. Ingram

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

38 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


Dive into the research topics of 'Citizen Complaints Against the Police: An Eight City Examination'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this