Reducing public complaints and use of force: the Portland Police Bureau experience

Tim Prenzler*, Tyler Cawthray*, Louise Porter*, Geoffrey Alpert*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)


Purpose: From 2002 to 2014, the Portland Police Bureau reported large reductions in complaints against officers and use of force indicators. The purpose of this paper is to develop a case study to document these changes and explore possible influences.

Design/methodology/approach: The paper maps the changes in conduct indicators against the developing relationship between the Bureau and the Portland Independent Police Review Division, and changes in policies and procedures.

Findings: Public complaints reduced by 54.4 per cent, while the rate of specific allegations per officer fell by 70.1 per cent. Quarterly use of force incident reports were reduced by 65.4 per cent between 2008 and 2014. Annual average shootings decreased from a high of nine per year across 1997-2002 to just below four per year in 2009-2014. Fatal shootings also trended downward but remained two per year in the last three years on record. Reforms instituted during this period that may have influenced these trends include a more rigorous complaints process, an early intervention system (EIS), enhanced external and internal review mechanisms, policy changes and training initiatives.

Research limitations/implications:
The researchers were unable to control for a range of additional variables that may have influenced the findings, including police deployments and changes in officer demographics.

Practical implications:
The study provides support for strategies to improve police conduct including external oversight, diagnostic research, training focussed on de-escalation and minimal force, and complaint profiling and EISs.

There are very few studies available showing large long-term reductions in adverse police conduct indicators.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)260-273
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Criminological Research, Policy and Practice
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 5 Dec 2016
Externally publishedYes


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