Blog: Tuesday, 18 December 2018
Social media are a rich source of complaints about the police, and the direct contact between citizens and police are also a major channel to probe the displeasure of citizens. Additionally, organisations mediating in conflicts have a rich treasure trove of information about what citizens think. The police can use these channels systematically if they want to identify more forms of displeasure among citizens and convert this displeasure into learning moments. This is the conclusion of Professor Gabriele Jacobs of Rotterdam School of Managament, Erasmus University (RSM) and her research team on the basis of a study commissioned by Politie & Wetenschap (Police & Science).
The police consider complaints from citizens as an opportunity to improve the quality of police action. There is a procedure to handle complaints, but in this study, the researchers from RSM’s Centre of Excellence in Public Safety Management (CESAM) and the Erasmus School of Law tried to find out which channels police could also use to get a realistic picture of expressions of displeasure among citizens. For example, many people now use social media to share positive and negative experiences. The research team also studied how the police can learn from complaints at various levels in the organisation.
Both qualitative and quantitative methods were used in the study. An exploratory, qualitative document analysis as well as quantitative analyses of dozens of annual reports of the complaint committees served as input for the follow-up of the study. In the follow-up study, semi-structured interviews were conducted with police staff, with citizens with complaints, and with institutions and people who have much knowledge about complaints from citizens, such as activist organisations, ombudsman and journalists. Two cases of social media storms were analysed too, as well as reviews on a Facebook page from the Dutch police.
One of the major findings is that the current complaint handling procedure of the police only deals with complaints about the behaviour of a specific police officer against the complainant, and excludes various other complaint categories. Citizens have more and other complaints than those foreseen in the complaint handling procedure, and they express these complaints through other channels, such as social media. The police can use these channels if they want to identify more forms of displeasure among citizens and convert this displeasure into learning moments.
It was also found that via the complaint handling procedure of the police, lessons can be learned at the level of the individual officer who was the target of the complaint. This officer can receive specific training, for example. But it is important that more systematic learning takes place at other levels, such as he district level and the general organisational level. They could for example evaluate if certain approaches or procedures in general contributed to the specific behaviour of the police officer. The consideration of a broader portfolio of complaints would help the police to also understand broader issues and could help to maintain and enhance the legitimacy of the police.
Does this mean that the police have to react to every tweet and that they have to act whenever displeasure occurs? This would be absolutely impossible, says Prof. Jacobs. The final objective should be that complaints are systematically used as ‘free advice’ from the citizens to continuously improve the police services. This study may contribute to realising this objective by providing insight into the possibilities.
The report (in Dutch) can be downloaded here: www.politieenwetenschap.nl
Erasmus School of Social and Behavioural Sciences (ESSB)
RSM offers Executive Education and Master programmes in various business areas for any stage of your career. For instance:
Corporate Communications & PR Manager
Science Communication and Media Officer