Tammy Landau's studies of the complaints process in Toronto describes in detail how unsuccessful were complainants in having their concerns substantiated. Most of the complainants received little accurate information about how their complaint was being handled. They grew to be very skeptical about the process of the police investigating themselves, and that skepticism even extended to the office of the Police Complaints Commissioner. Landau concluded that the complaints structure and process did little to assure complainants that police accountability was being enhanced (Landau "Back to the Future," Public Complaints, "When police investigate").

There are no studies addressing the issue of whether external civilian reviews are more effective than the internal police process of reviewing complaints. From a research perspective, it would desirable to randomly assign complaints for both internal and external reviews and then compare the results. Nowhere has this been done (Wortley Civilian Governance).

There are several other limitations to the current research on substantiation of complaints:

  1. It is difficult to compare outcomes because jurisdictions define complaints differently and operate in different operational contexts;
  2. There are few studies (and none in Canada) comparing substantiation rates before and after civilian review has been introduced into a police service;
  3. There are no studies comparing public attitudes in communities with civilian review over a period of time and communities where civilian review has never existed;
  4. There are no studies in Canada comparing, for example, regions or provinces that have civilian review and those where it is absent; and
  5. There are no studies in Canada or in any other country indicating that civilian review improves the relationship between the police and ethnic minorities.

The only conclusion that can be drawn, based on data currently available, is that complaints are no more likely to be sustained under civilian review than when they are reviewed by the police. The substantiation rate of complaints reviewed by the police, internally, is in the range of five to ten percent. For civilian reviews the range is between two and eight percent (Wortley Civilian Governance 14-15).

The low substantiation rate of civilian reviews may be due to several factors. One factor is insufficient resources. Well funded agencies report much higher substantiation rates than those agencies with a very limited resource base. An Australian study, for example, found that the number of substantiated complaints rose by 39% in a well funded civilian review agency. Low substantiation rates in civilian agencies may also result from employing an informal dispute resolution process during the early stages of a complaint. This practice is followed by the Calgary Police Commission, as noted earlier. The results of these diversions are often not calculated in determining rates of substantiated complaints (Wortley Civilian Governance 21-22). Another factor is that there are usually few witnesses to incidents of alleged police misconduct, and there are few other means available to provide more objective evidence. As a result, substantiation rates are likely to continue to remain very low.