Complain in Vain? The Development of a 'Police Complaints Culture' in Wilhelmine Berlin

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    Abstract

    This article assesses police-public relations in Wilhelmine Berlin from the perspective of those citizens who complained to the Berlin Polizeipräsident between 1892 and 1913. It also makes some comparisons with the position of complainants who challenged London’s Metropolitan Police. Citizens’ complaints reflect a highly asymmetrical power relationship between the complainant and the police, in which citizens’ legal rights to challenge public authorities were severely restricted by bureaucratic practices surrounding the handling complaints. Moreover, the official police commitment to operate strictly within the limits of the law was largely undermined by fluid legal boundaries around police powers. Even so, Berliners complained extensively. The complaints made to the Berlin Polizeipräsident provide insights into how ordinary members of the Berlin public challenged the police authorities. They illustrate who complained, about what and with what effect; and they show how complainants constructed their victimhood and made the case that the policeman had transgressed, if not the law, then at least some boundaries of acceptable behaviour.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)119-142
    Number of pages24
    JournalCrime, History & Societies
    Volume13
    Issue number2
    Publication statusPublished - 2009

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