How to Complain about the police, properly

This may seem like a very strange title, but if you have a genuine complaint against police, it is important that you know how to make your complaint properly.  You cannot make a 2nd complaint about the same incident if the first complaint does not go your way, and it can easily ‘not go you way‘ due to the way you make the complaint or, the way the police handle it.

This article is from my own experience, I welcome comments at the end of the article and will amend the main article from input received.

The complaint failure Process

This is the outline that a “failed” or “not upheld” complaints process takes:

  1. make a complaint – ‘not upheld
  2. appeal the complaint – ‘not upheld
  3. Complaint closed
  4. Judicial review

The above is only the basic fundamentals of the process should it fail (be ‘not upheld’) at each step.

Upheld vs Not upheld.

Simply put, if you complain, and the Police accept and admit your complaint is valid, your complaint is deemed as ‘upheld’.  If however the complaint is not admitted or decided against you, it is ‘not upheld’.  Complaints can be partially upheld, this also means, partially not upheld.


1.  Make a complaint.
This part is very important to write, as everything you write will be scrutinised and anything you do not write, however obvious, will be ignored, unless it helps them, and not necessarily helps you.  A good tip about a complaint is always wait a week or so before making it.

It is important that you understand what you are complaining about and what outcome you believe is the correct resolution.

If for example, you have been treated bad by the police, it is not really ideal to record a complaint that says,

Officer abc treated me bad and I want him/her sacked“.

Think about how you were treated bad.  e.g., An officer may have sworn at you, they may have shoved you, they may have done many things to justify a complaint from you, but unless a complaint is made, the incident may as well not have happened.

Now, understand what can happen.

Let us use an example that an officer shoved you.  This can have many genuine reasons for being shoved by an officer, and mark my words, they will attempt to justify it.  As long as you have an honest held belief it was wrong, you should complain, but do it wrong, and they will justify their actions.

A number of ‘possible‘ justifiable reasons a Police Officer may shove you.

  • You were acting aggressively and became too close to the officer, he gently pushed you back.
  • You were pushing another person and the officer assisted by holding you back.
    You were about to step out in front of a moving car
  • The list goes on.

Of course, only ‘reasonable force‘ would be justified in the above examples, but the point is, they will always find a way to justify something they did especially if it was wrong.

Lets just assume an officer pushed you because you were asking him for his collar number and he didn’t want to give it.  If the officer pushed you back, you would have reason to put in a complaint and allegation of common assault.

Now you must specify what happened, in detail.

This may seem obvious, but a complaint will be defended irrespective of the truth, unless…

You outline exactly what happened and gather evidence.This could be witnesses, or if you are lucky, a recording device.  Look for local CCTV, ask passers by.  Make notes of anything that could help you.  Make a Subject Access request for the officer’s pocket book as any allegation he may later make about you should have been noted in his book at the time. Was the officer wearing a body cam?  If so, make a subject access request for this.  Were there more than one officer present?  Get their body cams.  Collect officers names and numbers.  Do NOT tell them you are going to make a complaint at the time or this may encourage them to get their heads together and ‘write up’ a scenario in their pocket books.

Remember, no bodycam or witness makes your complaint harder to prove, but, think smart.  If the officer makes an allegation you were shouting or being aggressive and he pushed you back for this reason, then question why was his body cam not recording (assuming he was wearing one).  All cops switch on body cams if an incident breaks out so ‘no body cam’ may help your complaint on the basis you claimed you were acting rationale and it was he that acted out of order.

Also worth noting is that complaints must be decided ‘on balance‘ (on the balance of probabilities), that means, you have to show that the actions you describe are more likely than not to have occured.  This is basically 51/49.   This is not a criminal trial which you have to prove beyond doubt, you only have to show ‘on balance’.  This makes the complaint easier to prove, although there is no judge and jury and it is most likely the police investigating themselves.

2. Appeal the complaint
On the assumption your complaint was ‘not upheld’, you have a right to appeal.  The appeal is of the the decision made in the initial complaint.  You cannot generally add to the complaint and this is why the complaint in step 1. is very important.  The appeal is normally kept ‘in house’ unless the allegation was of a level that makes the appeal become to IOPC (formerly IPCC).  Keeping the complaint in house is much easier for the police to ‘control’ the complaint and makes it less likely to have the decision overturned, however, you can add information to support WHY the complaint should have been upheld.  You can drill down into how you claim the decision was wrong based on known facts.  Take for example the ‘lack of body cam’ especially if the cop suggests you were acting aggressively or irrationally.  Suggest that the police officer claims ‘xyz’, yet did not activate his body cam which is normal policy.  This is where you can question the response to your subject access, i.e. ‘why didn’t PC xyz note this allegation in his pocket book, or why didn’t he hotify his sergeant.   As per the tip at the start, if the officer writes it up ‘after’ you made the complaint, this shows questionable conduct.  This is why it is good to wait a week or so before making the complaint as a police officer must always write or report things as soon as possible.  Not ‘after’ a complaint is made.

3. Complaint closed
Whatever the outcome of you complaint, this is essentially the end of it for you. (with the exception of step 4.)  This makes step 1 and 2 very important.  The police will only investigate the complaint (generally speaking) using information you provide.  If you don’t provide a crucial piece of information, they will avoid it even if they knew about it.  They will claim this was not brought to their attention by you and this is now unusable as the complaint is closed.

4. Judicial Review
If the complaint is ‘not upheld’ or you are unhappy with the decision made, the only option now is a judicial review.  This means you have to take it to a court for a judge to consider.  Chances are, the reason it gets to this stage is if you made mistakes in the complaint process giving the Police the ability to ‘not uphold’ you complaint, or, the complaint simply was not justified (evidentially).

This being the case, a judicial review may find the same outcome as they would use the same complaint information you submitted in step 1 and appeal of the complaint in step 2.  There are plenty of occasions where Police, when  reviewing complaints, use the complainants lack of knowledge in the complaints process against them, remember, Police deal with complaints every day and are experienced enough in the process to know its flaws and failings.

It is very unlikely for them to use it flaws in your favour unless they have a specific agenda against an officer.

A judicial review (JR) is a last resort and can be very costly.  Be wise.  If you are 100% sure they screwed you, then you should consider the JR.  Remember, you have to stump the bill and legal advice would be advised.  If you are successful, the police have to cover the costs, if you fail, you cover the costs.  These can be £1,000 – £5,000 depending on the evidence etc.  The best course of action is get step 1 and 2 correct to either avoid the JR process or to enhance the ability of winning.  A judge will most likely flame a Police force for abusing the complaints process and this will help you in any future complains as the police will know you will get their decision judicially reviewed.

Should I complain?
YES, without a doubt, you must complain. If you are reading this, then you probably have made the decision. but you must be aware.

Complaints you make against the Police will be held against you, especially by the officer complained of and most likely their ‘mates’.

If you make a complaint against ‘Officer A’.  Any friends of this officer will almost certainly be biased against you (they are human) so will likely have a negative affect on you with any associated officer or friend of Officer A.

If you make many complaints about many officers, you will build a bigger group of negative Police against you.  They may only be subconsciously biased against you or intentionally biased against you, but the common word here is ‘biased’.

You must be aware of these possibility. Hover it is very important to complain if you have a genuine belief of wrong doing.

This document is a ‘work in progress’ and will be edited as and when I get the time.  Any comments below will be taken into account and used to fine tune the article.