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Internal Affairs Complaint Investigations: A Multi-Site Comparison

Award Information

Award #
Funding Category
Competitive Discretionary
Congressional District
Funding First Awarded
Total funding (to date)

Description of original award (Fiscal Year 2023, $907,011)

Investigations of citizen complaints against police for acts of misconduct are an integral part of police accountability. These investigations are typically undertaken by police Internal Affairs (IA) units, yet we know very little about the structure of these units, the types of policies and investigatory practices they routinely employ, and the degree to which any are effective in resolving complaints. Thus, there is a critical need for data collection efforts to document the organizational contexts in which complaints are investigated, the specific activities IA investigators undertake, and what factors matter most in resolving complaint investigations. The purpose of the project proposed here is to provide a comprehensive understanding of IA officers and their tasks related to citizen complaint investigations. In order to do so, the project will be conducted in two phases. Phase I will involve a nationwide survey of IA units in order to understand their policies, procedures, and variations in complaint dispositions. From this, we will rank agencies based on their performance, and proceed to Phase 2. The second phase involves a “most different” case study approach. Here we will select 4 low-performing and 4 high-performing IA units, and, along with cooperation from these agencies, conduct semi-structured interviews of key personnel within these eight departments to understand their IA investigative practices. We will then connect this analysis with citizen complaint investigative files from these agencies to examine the extent to which both organizational and individual/case characteristics are related to complaint dispositions. Overall this study will: (a) provide detailed information about variations in IA policies and practices; (b) explore how that variation differentially impacts IA unit performance in terms of successfully resolving citizen complaints; and (c) make recommendations to IA units in terms of beneficial policy choices and procedures. Police, and the communities they serve, could clearly benefit from a greater understanding of which policies and practices are most effectual in IA investigations, and the results of this study will be immediately informative to US law enforcement, policy makers, and other organizations which seek to hold police accountable. CA/NCF

Date Created: September 28, 2023