Police complaints

Do you want to make a complaint against the police? Here's how to do it.

riot police

The police aren't utterly impenetrable...

The police are there to serve the community and maintain law and order whilst protecting us against crime. Or at least that’s what is says in their job description. But, let’s be honest here, they don’t always behave like squeaky-clean pillars of society. So if you think you’ve been treated unfairly, don’t be afraid to complain.

There are processes in place to stop the police behaving like thugs with a badge… some of the time.

When should I complain about the police?

You can complain if you see a policeman doing anything they shouldn’t be doing. It doesn’t even have to be done to you – you can complain on someone’s behalf if they give you written permission.

Common reasons to kick up a fuss include policemen:

  • Being rude to you unnecessarily
  • Using excessive force
  • Abusing your rights
  • Arresting you unlawfully

How do I complain?

There are all sorts of ways of letting them know you’re unhappy.

You can fill out an online form and complain via the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC). You can ring your local police force, or go down there in person. Or you can contact a solicitor or MP who can make a complaint on your behalf.

If you want legal advice, you can get it for free at your local Citizen’s Advice Bureau.

Put your complaint in writing and try and include the following:

  • What happened.
  • When it happened.
  • What was done and said.
  • How to contact relevant witnesses.
  • Any proof, particularly if they’ve damaged something or injured someone.
  • The identity of the police officer. There will be identity numbers on their shoulder badges.
  • Anything else that may support your complaint, such as recorded evidence (CCTV footage or a recording on a mobile phone).

If you simply want the offending officer told off by a senior officer you can write directly to your local chief constable (or Borough Commander if in London), describing the incident and asking questions like, ‘Is this normal practice?’. They have to answer these letters, which means somebody has to investigate what happened.

Will they think I’m overreacting?

Don’t let people tell you it’s not worth complaining, the police WILL take your complaint seriously. Even kicking off about something minor, such as rudeness, reminds them that they answer to their community and it’s their community that defines what is and isn’t acceptable.

What will happen if I’m successful?

Depending on the level of complaint, any of the following actions can result from misconduct procedures:

  • A stern word from a senior officer
  • A warning
  • A formal caution
  • Loss of pay
  • Loss of rank
  • Requirement to resign
  • Dismissal

Disciplinary action can be taken against a police officer if it can be proved that they’ve breached the code of conduct. If a police officer has broken the law themselves, they may well be prosecuted.

What can I expect as a resolution?

  • An apology
  • Information or an explanation to clear up a misunderstanding
  • A letter explaining what has been done following your complaint to prevent it happening again and how the police force has learnt from it
  • Action by a manager to change the way an officer or staff member behaves

If you disagree with the end result then you can appeal to the IPCC.

Anything else I can do?

Most complaints are investigated by the local police force. However, more serious complaints will be investigated by the IPCC. If your complaint is serious enough to warrant legal action you should talk to a specialist solicitor.

Photo of riot police by Shutterstock

Next Steps

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Updated on 29-Sep-2015