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Widening the scope on complaints of police misconduct

Kimberly D. Hassell (Helen Bader School of Social Welfare, University of Wisconsin‐Milwaukee, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA)
Carol A. Archbold (Department of Criminal Justice and Political Science, North Dakota State University, Fargo, North Dakota, USA)

Policing: An International Journal

ISSN: 1363-951X

Article publication date: 22 August 2010




This study aims to examine the relationship between officer characteristics, productivity levels, situational context, the complaint process and allegations of police misconduct in a Midwestern municipal police agency.


Data were collected for all formal and informal complaints filed against patrol officers from 2002‐2005. Demographic information, arrest, citation and report data, as well as data regarding the number of officers on scene during the police citizen contact that resulted in the complaint were utilized in these analyses.


The analyses in this study demonstrate that more aggressive officers – those who issue a greater number of citations – will generate a greater number of complaints of misconduct. Two variables explain the processing of formal complaints: number of officers present and the nature of the complaint. Further, the analyses indicate that informal complaints are a viable source of data and that the collection and archival of informal complaints can be a useful indicator for internal control of police misconduct.

Practical implications

The findings indicate that police departments must employ internal mechanisms, such as early warning systems to deal with police misconduct. Internal monitoring of police conduct may be the best way to detect misconduct as relying solely on citizen complaints as measures of police misconduct does not appear to be warranted.


This paper adds to the literature on complaints of police misconduct by including several variables not previously examined. Further, this study analyzes both formal and informal complaints; there are no other studies that examine informal complaints of misconduct. This study also investigates the complaint process, including frequency, nature, disposition and discipline administered following disposition of formal complaints.



Hassell, K.D. and Archbold, C.A. (2010), "Widening the scope on complaints of police misconduct", Policing: An International Journal, Vol. 33 No. 3, pp. 473-489.



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