Group 8 Week 10 Outline (Walker 1997)
Complaints against the Police: A Focus Group Study of Citizen Perceptions, Goals, and Expectations
- What do the citizens want to accomplish with their complaints against the police?
- Does the law enforcement citizen complaint process accurately address the citizens concerns?
- Citizen complaints against Police misconduct
- Law Enforcement misconduct is a prevalent issue in America.
- Civil Rights groups such as the NAACP and ACLU complain that minorities are victims of repeated extreme physical and verbal abuse by the police
- African Americans are less likely than White’s to have their complaints addressed.
- Civil Rights groups request the development of a citizen review board
- Citizen Review
- Citizen review examines how effective law enforcement citizen complaint procedures are.
- Advocates claim citizen review provides more productive review of citizen complaints than law enforcement.
- Opponents claim citizen review is intrusive to law enforcement duties, assist in less complaints than law enforcement procedures, is expensive and duplicates the same material
- Many studies have tried to examine citizen complaint procedures but were flawed and didn’t provide actual conclusions regarding various citizen review procedures in law enforcement.
- Scholar and literature interpretations regarding citizen complaints against law enforcement were flawed and lacked beneficial theoretical perspectives.
- The Procedural justice perspective possibly includes theoretical perspectives because it acknowledges that consumer satisfaction is based on the officiating process and the reasons why the law enforcement reached their final decision.
- Complaint procedure goals
- Complaint procedure goals contain several goals that are desired for accomplishment.
1. Provide detail review of citizen complaints.
2. Provide resolutions for complaints that contain accurate evidence
and report wrongful law enforcement officials.
3. Prevent future law enforcement wrong doing.
4. Provide satisfaction to consumer’s who filed complaints.
- This goal is the less attentive.
- Perez (1978) examined 6 different complaint review procedures and concluded that citizen’s who filed complaints were more satisfied with the citizen review board procedures than complaint procedures within organizations.
- Sviridoff and McElroy (1989a) interviewed 371 citizens who filed complaints with the NY CCRB and concluded that 61% of them had goals that included reprimanding law enforcement. 20% wanted the law enforcement fired, suspended, or more and 19 % only wanted the police department advised of the situation. They concluded that there is a lack of “fit” between citizen complaints and officiating procedures. Their study influenced this current study to pay more attention to the goals of the citizen’s who filed complaints against law enforcement.
5. Help change the negative perceptions the general population may have
regarding law enforcement.
6. Help increase the effectiveness and stability of the law enforcement
- Description of study
A. Location and where study was conducted
1. Midwestern city.
- Population as of 1990 was 350,000 with a racial class of 83% White, 13% African-American, 3.1 % Hispanic, 0.7% Native American and a significant population of undocumented Hispanic immigrants.
- Metropolitan area contained policed department with 650 sworn officers and some residential areas contained 3 small police departments with a total of 49 officers.
- Group Make up
1. Participants and current members of religious, educational, and social
institutions were combined in 10 focus groups.
- 6 Focus groups were arranged through religious institutions with a cross section of the community
- 2 Predominantly white suburban mainstream Protestant denominations, 1 white suburban fundamentalist Protestant denomination, 1 Jewish synagogue, 1African Protestant congregation were used and 1 Catholic church serving the Hispanic community
- 3 Focus groups were arranged through a special scholarship program for low income students through a University, contained approximately 50% African-American, 25 % Hispanic, and 25% White.
- The young ethnic minorities groups that complained about police abuse were used more or oversampled than white middle-aged citizens came from this group.
- 1 Focus group was arranged through the gay and lesbian organization.
- The groups were cross sectioned within the community based on ethnicity, neighborhood, and income.
- The young ethnic minorities groups that complained about police abuse were used more or oversampled than white middle-aged citizens.
- The scenario provided to the subjects
1. The scenario involved an incident pertaining to police misconducts.
2. The participants sat in a semicircle facing the discussion leader and note taker
3. The sessions were 1 hr and 15 minutes.
4. The participants were asked what they would do in a hypothetical incident.
5. Their goals and perceptions regarding the complaint procedure process were
documented. The idea was to document different people’s perceptions.
A. Ethnicity and Age differences in police conduct and familiar to police
1. Group 1 African American adults and students from groups 7, 8, 9 almost all
agreed that the incident involving police conducted provided in the study
were common and had experiences.
2. None of the white adult groups in 3, 4, 5, 6 reported having consistent
problems with the police and one white female in group 8.
- Some participants were concerned such as the gay and lesbian group about sexual orientation.
- African Americans were more familiar with details of policing and the complaint process.
- Some participants of group 4 Jewish group showed familiar with policing and complaint process.
- Members of the Hispanic group 2, the Protestant fundamentalist groups group 3, and elderly women group 5, didn’t know a lot about the policing or complaint process.
- Only 4 participants showed support for the police officer in the scenario.2 Hispanic and 1 White and 1 African American.
- The Hispanics in group 2 provided challenged responses to the incident.
- Most participants would report the incident to the police while others they would report to the police chief or Mayor.
- Participants defined the incident in personal and in impersonal terms.
- Participants expressed anger.
- The participants who defined the scenario incident in impersonal terms emphasized the unprofessional conduct of the officer.
- There were no consistent differences between ethnic groups or between males and females.
- Citizen complaint goals
A. The goals of the participants were characterized as punishing the officer, receiving an apology or explanation, documenting the officer’s record, and having the officer receive counseling.
- Most of the African-American participants in group 1 decided they wanted the
officer suspended or fired due to a credible argument from 1 of the groups
- Most of the participants out of every group wanted some form of an apology
a. African-American adult from group 1 wanted a written apology
b. Member of the Protestant fundamentalist group 3 wanted face
c. Hispanic adult in group 2 wanted an apology and reason
d. Member of Jewish community “probably” wanted an apology
e. Another Hispanic adult in group 2 felt that the apology would
- Some of the participants wanted an explanation about the incident.
a. Half of the students in group 8 that consisted of ethnic group
and Hispanic members from group 2 wanted an explanation.
- Members from the gay and lesbian group 10 wanted some type of encounter with the officer to be able to express themselves and voice their opinion
- One of the most consistent goals within the participants was to file a complaint about the officer so that the incident could be recorded or on file.
a. Hispanic male from group 8 wanted a record in the officers file.
b. Hispanic adult from group 2 stated they should have a record of
all incidents and the officer should be suspended if he already
had several records on file.
c.2 participants from groups 4 and 8 wanted to know the
officer’s disciplinary record.
d. 1 member of the adult African-American group 1 insisted that
the members of the community to make sure the complaints go
e. Most of the gay and lesbian group members from group 10
demanded a “mark” on the officer’s record just in case of repeat
issues and they wanted the officer to receive counseling.
- Filing a complaint desires
1. Many participants didn’t believe that filing complaints was effective.
a. White female in group 8 stated she wouldn’t file a complaint
because “nothing would happen”
b. African American male student from group 8 believed that
anyone ages 19 or 20 filing a complaint, nothing would be
c. 11 out of 18 members of the adult Hispanic group 2 said filing
a complaint was useless.
- Member of Jewish group 4 believed that a high executive
would get a lot done.
2. Some of the participants would file complaints even if they would be useless.
a. 1 African American Female student in group 8 and several
members of the Jewish group 4 expressed they would file the
3. Some believe the police department would cover up police misconduct
a. 1 African American male and student from group 8 and 7
4. The participants realized issues could emerge when documenting an
a. Some of the members would get the badge number and
license plate number while other’s believed witnesses are
5. Some participants feared retaliation from complaining.
a. 1 African-American woman from group 1 stated she had been
harassed due to filing a complaint
b. Jewish member from group 4 said he thinks of retaliation but
would still file a complaint.
c. Woman from older women’s group 5 wondered if the officer
had their license number and name.
d. Hispanics from group 2 worried about losing their jobs
- Study indicated the different perception of police from different ethnicities.
1. African-American students and adults demonstrated extreme issues with
police than white and Hispanic students.
2. Gay and Lesbian group were suspicious about the police, but didn’t advise of
any personal experiences w/ police abuse like African-Americans.
- African-American adults demonstrated the most knowledge about police
including good and bad officers.
A. The findings in the study confirm Sviridoff and McElroy’s (1989a) research of
discrepancies between citizen complaint objectives and law enforcement
1. Only a small portion of the participants wanted to punish the officer from the
scenario, while most wanted an apology, explanation, encounter with officer,
or record of the incident on file.
- The findings support the procedural justice perspective regarding police complaints.
- Documenting the incident on the officer’s record was not expected.
- Most participants believe the police officers will protect each other.
- The focus groups demonstrated different findings.
- Neither internal nor external complaint processes accurately take into account the goals of complaints.
- Study identifies the differences within perceptions of the police and complaint process between different groups of the population.