Citizen Complaints and Problems Officers Examining Officer Behavior Chapter thirteen talks about the police being a public institution, that relies on a grant of legitimacy rooted in public trust and confidence. Complaints that become news events can wear away confidence among an even wider audience. This chapter provides the unique opportunity to combine citizen complaint data with actual observations. It examines the behavior of identified problem officers, as well as whose who are not labeled as such.
Systematic research on police misconduct suggests most citizen complaints are generated by a handful of officers. In 1991, the Christopher Commission released its review of the Los Angeles Police Department in the aftermath of the Rodney King riots (Independent Commission on the Los Angeles Police Department, 1991). From its investigation, the Commission reported that a small group of officers were responsible for a disproportionate number of citizen complaints. Forty-four officers who had six or more allegations of excessive force or improper tactics were identified and labeled "problem officers." It stands to reason that officers who repeatedly receive citizen complaints will be looked upon with suspicion, reflecting the saying- "where there's smoke there's often fire." Perspectives on Citizen Complaints and Problem Officers As a result of the adversarial nature of the police-citizen relationship, situations arise in which avoidance of conflict is not an option. Not every citizen willingly accepts an officer's definition of a situation: instead, he or she may choose to rebel against or challenge the authority of the police officer.
Van Maanen (1978) noted this type of citizen, termed "asshole" by police, was likely to receive street justice in the form of "thumping." Though Van Maanen's fieldwork took place three decades ago, police continue to confront citizens they label as "assholes" who challenge their authority (Mastrofski, Rei sig, and Mccluskey, 1991). More precisely, "thumping" an "asshole" has garnered an increasing amount of both departmental and public attention (Skol nick and Fyfe, 1993). At least three different perspectives on the meaning of citizen complaints are possible. First, it may be that citizen complaints tell us little to nothing because they are unreliable or invalid indicators of officer's behavior.
Two arguments can be made in this respect. A citizen complaint is just that- a "citizen" complaint. It is the citizen's view or perception that the officer acted illegally or improperly, which is unlikely to be informed by rules and procedures by police departments establishing uniform operating standards. A complaint is solely an allegation of wrongdoing and may have less to do with improper police behavior and more to do with the fact the citizen was the subject of an officer behavior (e. g. , arrest, search) that the citizen simply does not like, thereby prompting a grudge on his or her behalf.
Second, it may be that complaints help identify potential problem officers. Toch (1995) notes that complaints are subject to interpretation, but they may be a rough indicator of an officer's "propensity" for malpractice. Thus, officers with a high complaint rate, in particular, should be identifiable through counterparts. Third, citizen complaints may actually be an indicator of officer productivity. It has been argued (Leach and Mieczkowski, 1996; Wagner and Decker, 1997) that officers who receive repeated complaints may not actually be so-called problem officers, but rather productive officers. The surest way not to receive a complaint is to do little or no police work; or to avoid probing or dealing with situations where conflict is likely (e.
g. , chasing drug dealers) (Muir, 1997; willing, 1999). Physical Force and Discourtesy Excessive force and discourtesy are two of the most serious complaints logged against an officer. Excessive force complaints have long been a hot button topic, and departments engaged in community policing are increasingly sensitive to the issue of police discourtesy. Given the importance placed on these behaviors, do officers who received a high number of force and discourtesy complaints engage in such behaviors at a rate higher than their counterparts with few to no complaints? Agitators Officers with a high number of complaints may not necessarily engage in improper behavior, but they may be more apt to use tactics that tend to anger or frustrate the citizen. For instance, officers who receive complaints for force or discourtesy may have a tendency to order or threaten citizens more often, rather than negotiating or attempting to persuade.
They may also be inclined to rely more heavily on interrogation and search tactics to gather information. Inhibitors These are the individuals whose behavior is characterized as those that can soothe or tone down the encounter. For instance, offering comport or reassurance may positively affect citizens who officers encounter, even when such an encounter is inherently negative. Data/Method The data was collected during the summer of 1997 in St. Petersburg, Fl as part of the Project on Policing Neighborhoods (PORN). Two data elements from PORN were utilized: citizen complaint records and observation sessions.
In reference to citizen complaints, PORN researchers were able to collect data on each officer dating back five years with help of senior police officials and members of the internal affairs division. Contained in the complaint data is the type of case, including such categories, harassment, unnecessary force, as well as numerous minor violations. (Note: those two tables start on page 263-264. ) Results Physical force/Discourtesy: The initial set of comparisons involved physical force and discourtesy. Physical force involved any physical act a citizen was a subjected to by an officer. Examples restraint techniques, striking the body, and / or striking with an external weapon.
(Note: the page for these tables start on page 266-268) Agitators: The first agitating behaviors analyzed were commands and threats. Commands involved "Strong directive language" where an officer made it clear that he or she was not asking or requesting, but rather ordering it (ex: "drop the knife"). While complaint officers did rely on commands and threats at a rate greater than low-complaint officers, the difference between the two did not reach statistical significance. (This chart is on page 269) Inhibitors: It was hypothesized that officers who offer comfort or reassurance to citizens are likely to lessen the likelihood of a complaint. No significant difference was uncovered between the two groups of officers in terms of comforting and reassuring suspects. (Note: This table is on page 270) Conclusion In my conclusion, it is possible that high-complaint officers act differently from their counterparts when confronted with various situations such as disrespectful citizens, evidence of citizen misbehavior, or citizen resistance.
I believe these two groups of officers react solely on how the subject comes-off at them when being confronted. I think it is more of who that officer is as a person and not so much of the situation dictating his or her actions.