Who Is At-Risk? An Examination of the Likelihood and Time Variation in the Predictors of Repeated Police Misconduct

Published date01 December 2021
Date01 December 2021
Subject MatterArticles
Who Is At-Risk? An
Examination of the
Likelihood and Time
Variation in the
Predictors of Repeated
Police Misconduct
Christi L. Gullion
, Erin A. Orrick
and Stephen A. Bishopp
Increasing transparency and accountability in policing is a top priority for police
administrators, community groups, academics, and many others. The internal affairs
process is an accountability tool designed to hold officers and agencies accountable
to the citizens they serve, yet very little is known about the effect of internal inves-
tigative units on such outcomes as subsequent complaints and temporal distances
between complaints. This current study examines two critical aspects of the internal
affairs process, the likelihood of subsequent complaints and temporal distance
between the first and a subsequent complaint of misconduct. Officers’ complaint
data were collected from the internal affairs unit of a large, metropolitan police
agency in the southwestern United States. Results indicate that a longer time to
initial complaint and regional patrol assignment were related to a reduced likelihood
of receiving future complaints. Moreover, of those officers who received a subse-
quent complaint after their initial complaint, more than half did so within the first
College of Criminal Justice, Sam Houston State University, Huntsville, Texas, United States
Dallas Police Department, Dallas, Texas; University of Texas School of Public Health—Houston (Dallas
campus), USA
University of Texas School of Public Health—Houston (Dallas Campus), Texas, United States
Corresponding Author:
Christi L. Gullion, College of Criminal Justice, Sam Houston State University,Huntsville, TX 77341, United
Email: clg084@shsu.edu
Police Quarterly
!The Author(s) 2021
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/10986111211013048
2021, Vol. 24(4) 519 –546
520 Police Quarterly 24(4)
year, and 94% did so within the first three years of receiving their initial complaint.
Finally, we discuss the implications of our findings on policy and training opportuni-
ties, supervision, mentoring, accountability, and Early Intervention (EI) systems.
police misconduct, discipline, complaints, survival analysis, accountability
As police agencies strive to ensure a culture of accountability and transparency
in their police agencies, reducing officer misconduct is the focal point of their
efforts. A key mechanism in this effort is the internal affairs (IA) process, which
is responsible for investigating complaints and other incidents of potential offi-
cer misconduct to determine appropriate outcomes, including disciplinary
action (Harris & Worden, 2014; U.S. Department of Justice, Office of
Community Oriented Policing Services, 2019). However, while the internal
affairs process can result in disciplinary action, progressive police agencies use
this supervision and accountability tool as an opportunity to educate and
mentor officers rather than to punish them (Harris, 2014; Hassell &
Archbold, 2010; Lersch & Mieczkowski, 1996; U.S. Department of Justice,
Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, 2019; Walker & Archbold,
2000; Walker & Archbold, 2013). An effective internal affairs process is trans-
parent and ensures investigations are thorough, consistent, and timely. This
allows the opportunity to provide at-risk officers with additional training, men-
toring, and guidance to prevent future misconduct.
Research concludes that a small percentage of officers are responsible for a
majority of problematic behavior and high-risk incidents (Christopher
Commission, 1991; Goldstein, 1977; Harris, 2011, 2014; Walker, 2001; Walker
et al., 2000). Overall, studies examining complaints, find that officers who are
male, non-white, young and inexperienced, have previous military experience, or
less education (i.e., without a four-year college degree) receive more citizen
complaints relative to officers who are female, white, older and experienced,
have no prior military experience, or more education (i.e., a four-year college
degree) (Brandl et al., 2001; Harris, 2014; Harris & Worden, 2014; Manis et al.,
2008; Terrill & Ingram, 2016). Also, officers’ assignments and productivity
increase the likelihood of receiving a complaint. Officers who are assigned to
patrol, conduct more arrests, field interviews, and traffic citations, or are
assigned to busy or high crime areas receive more citizen complaints as com-
pared to officers not assigned to patrol, have fewer incidents, or assigned to less
busy or lower crime areas (Harris, 2009, 2014; Hassell & Archbold, 2010;
Hickman & Poore, 2016; Terrill & McCluskey, 2002).
There is a dearth of research examining factors that impact the likelihood and
timing between repeated police misconduct. Results of the few studies examining
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