How the Police Distinguish between Realistic vs. Fanciful Complaints?

Picture this: you are arguing with your neighbor because you play your favorite tune on a loudspeaker on repeat. They are so sick of it that they call the police on you. You heed the officer’s apprehension right away, but you observe that the same officer seemingly following in your footsteps on the following days. This cop sees your activities, from daytime to nighttime without a valid reason on your part. Of course, you’ll find this unusual. Being under police surveillance when you know you have done nothing wrong feels uneasy and would make you want to report it to the police station to get some clarifications. Some may quickly judge your report as fanciful and be set aside depriving you of the clarifications you need.

But what makes a complaint “fanciful”? In this article, we will see what a fanciful complaint is and how the police handle these kinds of complaints.

What Is a Fanciful Complaint?

Every day, police officers receive hundreds and thousands of complaints from the citizens. Some of them are objectively true, but some of them are just over the top. Alleging a cop of abuse of its powers may not always be looked upon by the appropriate authorities just because they are following your footsteps. Thus, some complaints are considered “fanciful.”

How do the cops define a fanciful complaint? According to the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC), a complaint is “fanciful” when the complainant does not give credence to their complaint. In other words, a complaint may not necessarily be objectively valid but instead a product of illusion. The police are hardwired to think about the validity of the complaint than the supposed incident that gave rise to the complaint. No matter how “impossible” an incident is, the cops must be all eyes and ears when studying a complaint.

Fanciful vs. Realistic Complaint: The Ideal Distinction

Let us give some examples to further understand how the cops differentiate a fanciful complaint from a real one.

Say you just got divorced from your ex-spouse, and you feel you are not safe on your social media accounts because you think the authorities are “spying” on you. While this situation may be considered fanciful, the police have the right to investigate someone on the internet, provided they are authorized to do so by the law. A lawful investigation is done through policing legislation and not through “hacking,” as some may claim.

Now, picture this: a complainant claims that a police helicopter is spying on him because the chopper follows his movements at eye level, from entering his house to grocery shopping. He even claims that the helicopter waits for him after he is done with his grocery shopping. Any rational person will consider this complaint “fanciful,” as no police officer piloting an aircraft will buzz through a neighborhood at eye level just to spy on an individual who peacefully buys his needs in a supermarket.

Let us take the case of an ex-clergy who was charged guilty on sexual harassment complaints. This article shows how the ex-priest presents a fanciful complaint by claiming that the teenage boys he harassed do not know who touched them. The priest then implies that the young students he touched have a “pack full of lies” ready to be thrown at him at any minute. It is as if the teenage boys were not rational enough to bring up such complaints. The prosecutor rebuts him by asserting that no teenage person would not know who touched them in school, especially they knew who harassed them. The court later put charges on the defendant.

Who Handles All Our Complaints?

With these in mind, who then handles all of the citizen’s complaints? Whether it be fanciful or not, the local police force takes all of the complaints made by any citizen in their area under the Police Reform Act of 2002. They are the ones responsible for attending to the complainant’s and defendant’s needs.

However, there are changes made within the laws. It replaces the right of appeal of the complaint with a right to review. From February 1, 2020 and onwards, the complainant has the right to appeal their case. A non-recorded complaint is also eligible for appeal in the courts.

The organization where the complainant filed their case should send a letter to the latter telling them that they have the right to appeal or review their case. They should also tell which organization will handle such complaints.

The Actual vs. Fanciful Complaint Dilemma

As already mentioned above, the police force takes all responsibility in handling the complaints of any citizen. There are cases where the police do not record their complaints. Still, a complainant may appeal this if the recording body failed to decide on recording the case or if the cops did not forward it to the appropriate authority. A complainant may also appeal their case concerning the recording decision of the appropriate authorities.

However, some of the cases filed by complainants are dismissed by the police. The reason is usually on the grounds of incidents that did not happen or may not sound logical. This is contradictory to the policy of the IOPC, where the emphasis should be on the complaint, not on the incident that gave rise to the complaint.

Due to this, the IPCC Oversight and Confidence found out that 36% of the complaints were not pushed through in the court because it was categorized as “fanciful, vexatious, or abuse of procedure.”  Only two out of 18 cases were correctly classified as fanciful, and three out of six were classified as vexatious. In the case of abuse of procedure abuse, 19 out of 24 cases were correctly classified, though there are one out of 10 cases where a decision was made with incomplete information or insufficient rationale. Over a quarter of the complainants have behavioral, communicational, or mental health issues, which are indicators of mental health problems.

Final Word

A complaint is still something, whether it be fanciful or realistic. No matter how illogical the incidents that make a complaint look fanciful, a complainant should push their rights to be heard. The legitimacy of a complaint does not take hold of the incidents themselves but on how true the complaint is. We can also appeal this complaint to them, as they should look upon it and not just shun it. Let this mindset be in our memories so that whenever we file a complaint to the appropriate authorities, we fully know and assert our rights.

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.