Satisfaction with the process

Studies in Canada indicate that the vast majority of complainants are dissatisfied with the complaint process even when their claims have been substantiated and the review is conducted by civilians. People who complain about the process are unhappy with the time required to process the complaint, question the manner in which the investigation is conducted, find that the information provided in terms of feedback is very limited, and disagree with the type of discipline recommended for the offending officer (Wortley Civilian Governance 17; "City cop's penalty slammed" Edmonton Sun December 4, 2004, 5).

Other studies have produced more positive results. Jurisdictions utilizing an informal mediation process, consistent with principles of restorative justice and victim/offender mediation, tend to be regarded more favourably by complainants (Walker). This approach has been adopted by a number of Canadian police forces (McIntosh). Early reports appear positive but these anecdotal reports need to be confirmed with hard research data.

One interesting study compared the goals of the complainants what they wanted to accomplish - with the aims of the formal complaint process. The conclusions are quite interesting:

  • Few complainants wanted the offending officer to be punished, suspended, dismissed, or to face criminal charges;
  • Most want an explanation, an apology, a face to face encounter with the officer or simply documentation on the officers record;
  • Concern about the way the complaint is handled is as important to complainants as who deals with the complaint;
  • Complainants felt alienated by the legalistic approach to the investigation; and
  • There is dissatisfaction with the amount of information provided by the investigators, the time it takes, the manner in which the investigation is conducted, and the types of discipline recommended (Walker, Wortley Civilian Governance 17).

Support for Civilian Oversight

Civilian oversight is primarily based on these assumptions:

  • People will trust citizens more than the police and be more willing to lodge a complaint;
  • Citizens will be more objective when examining complaints from other citizens;
  • Their objectivity will produce a higher percentage of substantiated complaints that will deter and reduce instances of police misconduct; and
  • The public, as a result of these actions, will have greater confidence in the police.

While these are only assumptions and there is no research data indicating this is what actually occurs (Wortley Civilian Governance 6-7), civilian oversight as a concept seems to have become well established in the minds of citizens in the community, complainants, and public officials and affirmed in public opinion surveys. Many police officers accept it as inevitable and express their willingness to work with members of the community (Wortley Civilian Governance 19).