How to complain about a police officer

Updated February 17, 2017

Filing a complaint against a police officer is a serious matter. Often, citizens don't know where to go -- or whether the report will be taken seriously -- so they don't bother to file one. However, if the matter is serious, such as in the case of the use of excessive force, or the failure to investigate a domestic violence or child abuse charge -- you have an obligation to file a complaint. Make sure that you take the time to investigate the problem, and gather the pertinent information before you file.

Write down all of the details of your complaint immediately after the incident. Include times, locations, the officer's name and ID number, and any other details that you can think of. This will enhance your memory of the event, which is important, if the incident goes to court.

Hire a lawyer. If you feel that the complain is major -- such as the case of police brutality -- seek legal advice immediately. A lawyer who specialises in this area will have a better understanding of your rights and she will help guide you through the process. If you hire a lawyer, do not proceed with any of the following steps without her advice or permission -- or you may affect the investigation.

Fill out the complaint paperwork. Most police departments have a form on their website. If you have a lawyer, provide her with copies of any complaints you have made, before you submit them, to make sure that you are following the appropriate process.

Print a copy of the complaint and send another copy -- with supporting evidence and information -- directly to any address listed on the website. Also send copies to the police governing board. To find out what ombudsman or oversight committee operates in your area, search online or try calling the police department. If they inquire why you need the information, do not offer any detail or personal information.

Wait for the results. Most jurisdictions do not investigate minor complaints, especially if there is no supporting evidence. If you do not get a response within two weeks and you are not represented, call a lawyer. Time is of the essence, because some jurisdictions have time limits for accepting complaints.

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About the Author

Natalie Smith is a technical writing professor specializing in medical writing localization and food writing. Her work has been published in technical journals, on several prominent cooking and nutrition websites, as well as books and conference proceedings. Smith has won two international research awards for her scholarship in intercultural medical writing, and holds a PhD in technical communication and rhetoric.