6 Common Mistakes People Make when Filing a Complaint against the Police

When filing a police complaint, having a no-to-do list is as important as having your to-do list. Knowing the important information that should be indicated in a complaint will bring clarity and peace. On the other hand, knowing and avoiding the common mistakes will help lessen shame and anxiety over things that you think could cause your complaint to be ineffective. The list below are the common mistakes people make when filing a police complaint and should be avoided:

Submitting the complaint to the wrong authority

Identifying the appropriate authority could save both the authority’s and complainant’s time, effort, and resources. Submitting it at the wrong office could slow down the progress of the pursuit as it will, rightfully, undergo handling complaint procedure such as assessing the complaint, identifying if it is the correct body and if not, it will forward it to the appropriate authority and notify the complainant. Once it is with the appropriate authority, it will undergo another handling complaint procedure and will take additional days.

The Police Reform Act 2002 specifically confers a power or responsibility on the appropriate authority to have direction and control over the complained police force which they are members of. The appropriate authority could be:

• the Chief Officer of the police force
• the Police and Crime Commissioner;
• the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime; or
• the Common Council for the City of London

How to identify the appropriate authority

The first to be done is to identify the police force in which the complained individual is a member. 45 police forces have their area of responsibility and they cannot process a complaint against a police officer who is not their member.

The next step is to identify is the complained officer/s. If the officer/s are:

• Members of the police force
If the complaint is about the conduct of the members of the police force, the appropriate authority is the chief officer of the force. For the majority of the police forces, the chief officer is called the Chief Constable but for the Metropolitan Police Service and City of London Police, it is called the Commissioner.

• Chief officer or Acting chief officer
If a complaint relates to the conduct of a chief officer or acting chief officer, the appropriate authority is the local policing body with responsibility for that police force area. The local policing body for the most police force is the Police and Crime Commissioners. For the Metropolitan Police Service district, it is the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime, and the City of London police area is the Common Council.
If it appears that the concern may be more appropriately raised with another organisation, the receiving authority will explain it to the complainant.

Missed deadlines

It is best to submit the complaint as quickly as possible while the incident is still fresh in the complainant’s mind. If it cannot be done immediately, it can still be submitted within 12 months from the date when the incident/s happened. There are instances that a complaint is submitted after 12 months and explaining the reason for the delay may be helpful however, it does not guarantee investigation.

Unauthorized representative acting on behalf of the complainant

A complainant is someone who has been the subject of abuse or misconduct of the members of the police force. If he cannot submit the complaint himself, he may appoint someone of his choosing i.e. family member, friend, legal representative, or any other person provided that he has given his representative clear and unambiguous written consent. If the complainant did not give written consent, the complaint may be considered to fall outside the police complaints system.

Minors who are 16 years and below need not give their parents or guardians to act on their behalf.

Unambiguous intention of making a complaint

When making a complaint, it must clearly state the intention of lodging a complaint otherwise the authority, in some instances, may instead treat it as feedback. It may also help if it clearly states the complainant’s expectations on how the police force will address the issue.

Emotional tone of the complaint

Any person being subjected to any type of abuse or misconduct will be affected emotionally but even though feeling angry or hurt, the tone of the complaint should be respectful and constructive. The authority reading the complaint is more likely want to help in resolving the issues brought before them. Being courteous and straightforward in our letters may help the authority in their effective processing. It is expected that we will become emotional when we are recollecting an abuse but it would be best to make the complaint when at a calm and collected state as it will enable us to focus on the important parts and avoid overwhelming the main issue or at worst, forgetting to mention it.

Lack of important information on complaint

Needless to say, the complainant’s name, contact details, and a clear indication of intent to make a complaint are the basic information that can be provided but no matter how basic this information is, this is the most important as when the authority has this information, they can reach out to the complainant and further inquire and clarify for the details of the complaint.

However, being dependent on the authority to reach out to clarify the details should not always be relied on. Indicating some specific details of the incident i.e. time, place, and how the abuse or misconduct happened will be of great help for faster processing.

Sometimes, there could be a lack of information about the identity of the officer/s (name or badge number) due to how fast the incidents unfold. A physical description of the officer, however, is necessary for proper identification.

If evidence are available, indicate them in the complaint. Preserving the evidence by having photographs of damaged properties, reproducing copies of documents/video record/voice record, keeping the original documents or object of evidence in a safe repository, and having a medical certificate about the injuries must be given importance too for future inspection during the investigation.

If there are witness/es, indicate thier name and contact details in the complaint. This will help the police to reach out to them when making the investigation.

This list is not intended to be exhaustive and the information required will depend on the facts of each particular case.

This article was prepared by the Association Against Abuse of Police Powers and Privileges (AAAPPP), a UK not-for-profit organisation specializing in assisting victims of abuse of power and corruption in the UK Police.