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Handling citizen complaints in law enforcement

Complaints against our officers will never go away. However, don’t always perceive them negatively

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Ever receive a call from someone in your community, complaining about the service they received from an employee? Unfortunately, we can’t make everyone happy all the time. It’s just something we have to deal with. Comes with the territory.

Most law enforcement professionals do an outstanding job each and every day. However, there are times when no matter what we do, someone gets upset. It may be because we didn’t arrest someone for what another person thought was an arrestable offense. Or maybe we issued the person a ticket. People complain for endless reasons.

There are a couple of ways to think about this. You can get angry and frustrated. Or you can choose to look at it as a good thing. What’s that, Gordy? I should be happy about handling a complaint. Let me explain.

In my time as a supervisor, most complaints I received were for one of two reasons. Either the person just wanted to complain and be heard, or there was some type of communication breakdown.

Sometimes the miscommunication falls on the complainant. But sometimes it’s on us. Either the complainant didn’t listen to the officer’s explanation, or the officer did a bad job explaining the situation.

In my experience, most of the time the officer did a great job. This is where the positive outlook comes in. It reaffirms my belief that we do a great job serving our communities.

But even when the officer was wrong, this can still result in a positive outcome. Why? Because these situations give opportunities for growth and improvement. I could typically solve the problem with a conversation over coffee and use it as a training moment.

Remember, complaints against our officers will never go away. However, don’t always perceive them negatively. These situations often open doors for communication and allow us to grow and become better at our jobs.

And that’s Today’s Tip from Lexipol. Until next time, Gordon Graham signing off.

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Gordon Graham has been actively involved in law enforcement since 1973. He spent nearly 10 years as a very active motorcycle officer while also attending Cal State Long Beach to achieve his teaching credential, USC to do his graduate work in Safety and Systems Management with an emphasis on Risk Management, and Western State University to obtain his law degree. In 1982 he was promoted to sergeant and also admitted to the California State Bar and immediately opened his law offices in Los Angeles.