Citizen Complaints and Gender Diversity in Police Organizations

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citizen complaints, female officers, law enforcement, police misconduct, use of force


Using data from 464 law enforcement agencies drawn from the Law Enforcement Administrative and Management Statistics survey, the purpose of this study was to evaluate whether the number of institutional rules and organisational structures an agency has in place to identify, collect and manage information on the use of force incidents explains the previously reported findings that greater levels of female officer representation is associated with more police use of force. Agencies reported receiving a total of 18,711 citizen complaints in 2003 and 22,146 complaints in 2007. Approximately 6.7% of the complaints were sustained in 2003 and 8% in 2007. In 2007, women made up approximately 11% of the sworn officers in the agencies under examination, ranging from 1.4% to 40.1%, up slightly from 2003 when the average was 10.1% Based on the disruption thesis, we hypothesise that increasing female representation in police organisations is a catalyst by which norms and practices become formalised and embedded in the organisation's institutional structure. The findings confirm this connection and suggest that the relationship between gender diversity and citizen's complaints of inappropriate use of force is a function of the number and quality of rules, policies and mechanisms designed to capture and quantify complaints. These results have implications for the increased representation of women in law enforcement. A more robust research agenda on women and policing is needed to explore ways to reduce the negative conflict associated with increasing gender diversity while maintaining a police force that accurately represents the diversity in modern society.


This article was originally published in Policing and Society 26, no. 8 (2014): 859-874.