From 1999 2002, according to the Calgary Police Commission, 95% of public complaints were resolved without the need for a formal investigation (Annual Report 2002, 7). From a practical point of view this approach is commendable but it drastically limits opportunities for formal research and program evaluation. Thorough research cannot be conducted without a sound statistical base.

The lack of documentation is the reason why very little data is available describing the effectiveness of civilian oversight bodies and their achievements. It also explains the absence of rigorous evaluations examining the frequency, processing and consequences of police misconduct (Wortley Civilian Governance 12). The greatest amount of published research data available is in Ontario where The Office of Public Complaints has received the most intense scrutiny, evaluation and criticism in the literature on civilian oversight in Canada (Clare E. Lewis, McMahon; Landau "Back to the Future").

The existing literature primarily consists of the three types of studies (Wortley Civilian Governance 11-12):

  • Studies advocating or opposing civilian oversight based on anecdotal information;
  • Case studies describing political controversies surrounding the development of civilian oversight; and
  • Studies documenting the administrative structures and operational practices of different public accountability systems.

Most studies either describe the structure of the review body within a police service or outline the process or procedure through which complaints are handled (Smith 15).

There are two major structural issues in the literature on civilian review: the amount of independence of the civilian body from the police and the extent of its power and authority. Within this context, five basic types of civilian oversight have been identified (Wortley Civilian Governance 7-8):

  • The in-house model whereby police officers receive the complaint, investigate it, determine if the complaint will be substantiated, and take any necessary follow-up action;
  • The externally supervised in-house model in which there is some involvement of citizens but their involvement is very limited;
  • A model exists in which the investigation is completed by the police but the adjudication (Grant 419-420) and final disposition of the complaint is determined by an independent body;
  • Another model is a reverse of the one above: the investigation is independent but the police perform the adjudication role; and
  • In the fully independent model, civilians both investigate and adjudicate the complaint.