Examining police use of force and citizen complaints

William Terrill, Jason R. Ingram, Logan J. Somers, Eugene A. Paoline

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Purpose: The purpose of this paper is to empirically examine the relationship between police use of force and citizen complaints alleging improper use of force. Design/methodology/approach: The current study utilizes official use of force and citizen complaint data, as well as surveys of patrol officers, from the Assessing Police Use of Force Policy and Outcomes Project, a multimethod National Institute of Justice funded study. Findings: Bivariate and multivariate analyses revealed that the number of use of force incidents that officers were involved in, as well as the types and levels of resistance they encountered from citizens, was related to use of force complaints from citizens. That is, those officers that were involved in more use of force situations were engaged in force encounters where the highest level of citizen resistance was “failure to comply,” and faced higher cumulative levels of citizen resistance, received more complaints alleging improper use of force. Research limitations/implications: Studies of citizen complaints against police officers, especially those alleging improper use of force, should consider the number of force incidents officers are involved in, as well as other theoretically relevant force correlates. Practical implications: Administrators, concerned with citizen allegations for improper use of force against their officers, should work to encourage their personnel to minimize the number of use of force applications, or at least less cumulative force, to resolve encounters with citizens. Originality/value: While prior studies have examined police use of force and citizen complaints independently, the current study examines the empirical connection between use of force behavior and the generation of complaints from citizens.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)496-509
Number of pages14
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jul 26 2018


  • Citizen complaints
  • Citizen resistance
  • Complaint prone officers
  • Use of force

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pathology and Forensic Medicine
  • Public Administration
  • Law


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