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Rethinking Police Complaints

NCJ Number
British Journal of Criminology Volume: 44 Issue: 1 Dated: January 2004 Pages: 15-33
Graham Smith
Date Published
January 2004
19 pages
This paper analyzes the primary functions of the police complaint process in the United Kingdom.
During the past half-century, there has been a great deal of attention paid to the police compliant process. Generally, this attention is turned toward the question of who should investigate complaints against the police. Thus, procedural guidelines for the investigation of police complaints have been oft examined, usually to the exclusion of other related considerations. What is missing from the discussion of police complaints, is a consideration of the primary functions of the complaints process. As such, the current analysis turns attention away from who should investigate complaints against the police to an examination of why the investigation and adjudication of police complaints is a fundamental component of democratic policing. Specifically, the author analyzes the function of the police complaint process, the purposes it serves for stakeholders, and its efficiency and effectiveness. A review of the research and policy developments since the 1960’s is offered, followed by the identification of the four primary functions of police complaint procedures and the four causes of complaints. The four main causes of police complaints involve (1) unprofessional behavior, (2) criminal conduct, (3) tortuous action, and (4) unacceptable policy. The four functions of police complaint procedures are identified as (1) managerial, (2) liability, (3) restorative, and (4) accountability. A critique is presented of the longstanding preoccupation with managerial complaints models, which may serve to undermine the complainant’s interests. The tension between liability and accountability issues are probed as the author makes the point that a greater emphasis on restorative principles is required to fully process a police complaint. Finally, a two-tier system is proposed that would deal with complaints alleging unprofessional behavior and criminal conduct, while a third tier is proposed to consider complaints concerning unacceptable police policy. References