Police employees are expected to diagnose situations they encounter within a few short moments and take the most appropriate course of action. The overwhelming majority of the encounters police officers have with the public result in the satisfactory resolution of the problem. In the face of danger or great stress, police-citizen encounters become increasingly complex, but even in those situations, the majority are resolved without complaint. Sometimes, the public believes employees have exceeded their authority, acted inappropriately or have simply not treated them properly. Therefore, it is of critical importance to have a system in place that allows the public to bring these concerns to the attention of police managers.

This system must achieve at least three important objectives:

  • The system must create a sense of confidence on the part of the public that their complaint will be taken seriously, properly investigated, and correct employee behavior that is not consistent with department values, policies and procedures. An effective system for addressing citizen complaints and concerns provides the police department with important feedback on the quality of services delivered to the community.
  • The system must also give employees the confidence that complaints will be investigated within a reasonable amount of time and that they will be treated fairly. To do their work effectively, police employees must also know they will be supported when their behavior is consistent with department expectations. Although most complaints are lodged because of the belief the employee’s behavior was not appropriate, citizens occasionally use the complaint system as revenge toward the employee or as leverage against criminal charges.
  • The system must be designed in a way that provides management information to the police department. This information is important in understanding the Department’s responsiveness to the community. It is also useful in identifying areas where policy, practices and training might be improved.