Number of complaints

There are significant disparities between the number of citizens who express dissatisfaction with the police and those who formally lodge complaints. An Australian study indicates that about half of the respondents reported dissatisfaction with the police in their area, but only about 10% attempted to make an official complaint (Ede).
Another study indicates that about 30% of those who believe they were dealt with inappropriately go on to file a complaint (Wortley Civilian Governance 12). These and many other studies clearly indicate that only a minority of people who experience some form of police misconduct actually complain about the event.

Critics argue that many citizens do not proceed to the next stage in registering a complaint because they believe that a full investigation will not occur and nothing will happen. Citizens also may fear reprisals from the police. There are reports of citizens being harassed, intimidated, and threatened with criminal prosecution if their complaint is unsubstantiated and is perceived to be a "false claim" (Wortley Civilian Governance 13). There are other factors as well. Lodging a complaint takes time and energy and many citizens are unable or unwilling to make the phone calls, complete the paper work, and fulfill the other requirements that may be a necessary part of the process. Also, some citizens are simply apathetic: they are willing to complain but they do not want to proceed any further.

Proponents of civilian review believe that citizens are more likely to have more confidence in a process when a complaint is made to a group of civilians rather than by forwarding their concerns to a unit in a police force. The number of complaints would increase, they argue, if the latter process was followed.

Research data indicates that the number of complaints does increase following the introduction of civilian review but this increase is only temporary and then slowly declines to former levels. This decline could mean that civilian review does deter police misconduct. Unfortunately, there are no Canadian studies that confirm this position. Data on the relationship between civilian oversight and the recorded number of complaints is incomplete and needs to be examined and studied much more thoroughly (Wortley Civilian Governance 12-13).

Substantiation of Complaint

The research on the number of complaints that are substantiated is, unfortunately, very limited. There is a small body of research examining the substantiation issue but the results are not very promising and rates of substantiation tend to be very low.

A study in England and Wales examining police liability investigated 8,000 - 10,000 out of 30,000 recorded complaints against the police. Fewer than 10% of these complaints were substantiated and less than one-quarter of these led to liability proceedings. In the vast majority of cases the complaints process concluded with a supervisor speaking to the offending officer and then advising the complainant by letter. The satisfaction of knowing criminal proceedings were initiated against a police officer occurred only 127 times in a four year period less than 0.1 per cent of recorded complaints (Smith 23-24).