Police Misconduct: How to Address Issues Against Police Force

Misconduct is a breach of the Standards of Professional Behavior that would warrant disciplinary action while gross misconduct is such that so serious it warrants an officer’s dismissal from the police. Gross misconduct damages public confidence in policing as learning from it alone would not be a sufficient response given the gravity or seriousness of the matter. Whether police officers have “a case to answer” for misconduct is decided and is handled accordingly on a case-by-case basis. If you have experienced police misconduct whether minor or gross, would you rather address the issue by discussing it with the wrongdoing officer or file a formal complaint or not bother at all? 

In the annual report of the Independent Office for Police Conduct’s (IOPC) 2018/19 Public Perceptions Tracker, most of the public say that they would be likely to complain if unhappy about a police officer’s conduct. The minority who would likely not bother filing a complaint thinks that the police complaint system is biased in favor of the police.

The Police forces handle complaints reasonably and proportionately and this means doing what is appropriate in a circumstance, taking into account the facts and context in which the objection is raised. After filing a complaint, the appropriate reviewing body, i.e. The Professional Standards Department (PSD) or the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) will determine if the complaint should be handled with investigation. If it decided that no investigation is needed, there are six (6) ways your complaint will be handled:

1. By giving information and explanation about the wrongdoing;

2. By an apology given on behalf of the force;

3. By changing the police force’s policy or procedures;

4. By having the wrongdoing officer to reflect on their performance with their supervisor and take action;

5. By having an  advice from their supervisor and have them identify training needs; or

6. Sometimes, it could be reasonable not to take action.

In instances where you seek an informal apology or information and explanation about the officer’s actions, it would be best to discuss the matter with the officer as it saves your time and effort as well as the police resources. A direct feedback on the police’s behavior such as incivility and impoliteness will give an insight into how they deal with the public and hopefully lead to a changed behavior.

In instances of a higher magnitude such as raising concerns about the policies or procedures that should be changed,  seeking a suspension from duties of the police officer or if it is apparent that more trainings should be required, it is always best to file a formal complaint at the PSD or if it is about deaths or serious injuries, file at the IOPC. Bringing up these complaints to the authorities that have the power and responsibility to take actions and implement its rules will create a better police force.

Some people may seem that the complaint system is biased in favor of the police, and it would be futile to file a complaint. However, in the bigger picture, filing a complaint also serves as a record that can be used as a strong basis to help in revealing the pattern of common police misconduct. This will allow the police force to have a vital insight into how they can revamp their policies, standard procedures, and code of conduct and ethics and tighten up police accountability to serve the public better and avoid repetition of misconduct.

There are times discussing a concern with the officer is appropriate and there are times filing a formal complaint is appropriate. However, not doing anything about misconduct should not be an option. As long as there are members of the public who endures, stays silent, and turns a blind eye to police misconduct, some members of the police force will continue to abuse their power and privileges.

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.