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Curbing Police Brutality: What Works? A Reanalysis of Citizen Complaints at the Organizational Level

NCJ Number
Date Published
Liqun Cao
This federally funded report examines two categories of citizen complaints about police brutality: excessive physical force and abuse of police power, and the role of organizational characteristics and behavior in predicting the citizen complaint rate.
The unnecessary use of force by police is referred to as both police use of excessive force and police brutality. In this U.S. Department of Justice, National Institute of Justice funded report, the definition of police brutality is citizens’ judgment that they have not been treated with full rights and dignity by police as expected in a democratic society. The study of police brutality is important since it illustrates fundamental conflicts that arise from policing in a democratic society. This report focuses on citizen complaints against the police use of excessive physical force and abuse of power, as well as the relationship between the citizen complaint rate against the police and organizational behavior and characteristics. The report covers three major topics: (1) the extent of police use of physical force as recorded by police departments; (2) the extent of citizen complaints about police use of physical force as recorded by police departments; and (3) the legal consequences of using excessive force. Data were used from a 1993 study, designed to be a comprehensive national survey of law enforcement agencies on the matter of police use of excessive force. Multiple regression analyses were used. The results indicate that there is some evidence that both organizational characteristics and organizational behavior are important in predicting the citizen complaint rate. The citizen complaint rate is also influenced by the environment the police have to work in. The results of this report are viewed as tentative due to the study relying on official data. In summation, the study found that organizational behavior and organizational characteristics are important covariates of the citizen complaints against police use of excessive physical force and police abuse of power. Further study is recommended in observing the applications of police departmental rules in daily operation and whether the model can be extended to explain police brutality in operation. References and tables
Date Created: June 3, 2014