Philadelphia’s Complaint System Against the Police: A Band-Aid on a Bullet Wound
Complaint systems against police officers are often cited as a means by which to reduce police misconduct and promote accountability; however, they do not necessarily function as ideally as intended. Despite Philadelphia’s transparency in its complaint data, there are many flaws with both the complaint system and adjudication process that prevent it from being truly constructive. Philadelphia’s data, like that of other cities, highlights the bleak outcomes of allegations brought against officers, with few complaints being sustained, fewer officers being found guilty, and still even fewer officers actually facing disciplinary consequences. Moreover, Philadelphia’s complaint data mirrors racial trends exhibited across the country, such as a disproportionately high representation of Black complainants, with Black residents also being more likely to report serious allegations of misconduct. This thesis utilizes data from Philadelphia and other cities in conjunction with a variety of literature to demonstrate that both in Philadelphia and across the country, complaint systems are minimally effective in providing either satisfaction on an individual level or in spurring reform on an institutional level, especially as it relates to reducing police misconduct and racial bias in policing.