Making a Complaint about the NSW Police
If you feel you have been unfairly treated or had your rights violated by a NSW police officer you have the right to complain. Before you make a complaint you need to stop and think. Do you just want someone to listen to you as you let out your frustration (informal complaint) or do you want someone to investigate your complaint and let you know what they are going to do about it(formal complaint).
At NUAA we hear a lot of complaints about the way police treat our members and often our members and service users think there is nothing they can do about the treatment they receive. If you feel that you have been treated unfairly by police for example they were rude to you, used excessive force, abused your rights, arrested you unlawfully. You should make a complaint.
Don’t let anyone tell you that complaining is a waste of time. The police and the NSW Ombudsman take complaints made by the public seriously. Complaining sends a message to police about what the community thinks is acceptable behaviour. Remember if your complaint is about a really serious incident you might just stop it from happening to someone else. You can contact NUAA and talk to a staff member about what your options are and how to make a complaint against NSW Police.
What is the difference between an informal and formal complaint?
A complaint made in person or by phone is often considered an informal complaint. Often this is an easy way to resolve issues particularly minor disputes resulting from misunderstandings. If you are uncomfortable speaking to the police officer involved you can ask to speak to the supervising officer (called a duty officer of the police station). Informal complaints will be generally dealt with informally. What that means is, a record won’t be kept of your complaint.
If you feel the matter is serious and needs to be handled by more than a duty officer then you should put in a written complaint, this is known as a formal complaint. When you make a written complaint NSW Police must follow their complaints policies and procedures. A written complaint can’t get lost or be ignored as there is a written record. The complaint you made has to be investigated and dealt with. A record will be kept of your complaint and the outcome.
What behaviour can I complain about?
You can make a complaint if you feel police have behaved corruptly. Corrupt behaviour is defined as police being involved in bribery or blackmail or planting of evidence.
You can also make a complaint about police behaviour if police were:
- Used threats or harassment
- Failed to take appropriate action in circumstances of domestic violence
- Used excessive or unnecessary force
- Made unlawful or unreasonable arrest
- Discriminatory behaviour leading to bias or mistreatment by police
- Used unfair or improper interrogation
- Failed or delayed you from accessing your legal rights
- Release of confidential information inappropriately
- Unreasonable use of a taser, capsicum spray or batons
- Apprehended violence and/or stalking by a police officer
Complaints aren’t limited only to people who experience this behaviour if you witness police being rude or using excessive force or breaching someone’s legal rights you can make a complaint about what you saw.
What should I include in my complaint?
Even if you aren’t sure you are going to make a complaint you should try to record and collect information about the incident in case you decide to complain, this is especially important if you think you might face criminal charges. You don’t have to make a decision straight away and remember there is no time limit on complaints. Whether you are making an informal or formal complaint it is important to outline the facts clearly.
Some tips of what information to include in your complaint include:
- what happened and where did it occur (location)
- time and day it happened
- who was involved: name, rank and station of officer (or, if police weren’t willing to identifying themselves you should include this in your complaint)
- what did police do and say
- If there are any witnesses record their names and contact details (also ask witnesses are they willing to support your complaint or make their own complaint)
- Any supporting documents or evidence you have of any damage or injury caused by the incident
- It is very important to include in your complaint how you would like the complaint to be resolved. What resolution you want from the complaint – an apology, reimbursement for damages etc
You can also see if witnesses took photos or videos with their phones. It might also be worth asking if any of the witnesses or anyone else involved is interested in making a complaint. You will then be able to corroborate each others’ version of the events and you may find it easier to go through the complaint process with someone else.
Ask your witnesses to write down what they remember. Don’t offer to write up their statements as several witness statements all in the same hand writing will look less impressive.
Where can I get help to make a written complaint?
If you need help putting your complaint into writing you can contact NUAA or your local Community Legal Centre. You can also try your local Neighbourhood Centre for help writing out your complaint. If you feel confident in writing out your complaint without assistance the NSW Ombudsman website has tips on making a written complaint against police.
Do I need legal advice?
If you are unsure about how to proceed with your complaint you can speak to a lawyer and get some legal advice about making a complaint. The Community Legal Centres NSW website has a list of where to get free legal advice, as well as comprehensive list of how to make a complaint about police.
Can someone else put a complaint in on my behalf?
If you your complaint involves a serious matter and you are worried about it not being taken seriously you can ask your lawyer or legal representative to make a complaint on your behalf. You can also approach your local Member of Parliament and ask them to submit a complaint on your behalf. These are the only people who can make a complaint on your behalf. Of course you can ask friend, family member or community worker to assist you in writing out your complaint.
Can I make a complaint anonymously?
If you are worried about repercussions you can make an anonymous complaint. Remember if you make an anonymous complaint the investigator will not be able to contact you to discuss your complaint or let you know if any changes are made because of your complaint.
Often people worry that the police involved will be informed that you have made a complaint about them. Generally speaking police will not be told who has made the complaint. Also you can make sure you write in your complaint that you do not want investigating police to come to your house to question you, about the complaint, as this can be intimidating. If you are interviewed you can take a support person or legal representative with you.
How much time do I have to put in a complaint?
There is no set time limit for complaints, formal or informal, but you should try and have the issue resolved as quickly possible. The longer you take to make a complaint the more people forget and it makes it harder to investigate as peoples memories start to fade. You are more likely to have a better result if you make your complaint sooner rather than later.
How do I lodge my complaint?
If you are making an informal complaint you can visit or phone your local station at speak to the duty officer. To find out which Local Area Command has responsibility for your suburb click here. You can also ring the Customer Assistance Unit on 1800 622 571 to complain about NSW police officers.
Formal complaints, as we mentioned earlier, must be writing. Written complaints can be left at, or mailed to, your local police station or mailed to the Customer Assistance Unit at PO Box 3427, Tuggerah, NSW. You can also lodge your complaint online.
What happens next?
Once your formal complaint reaches the NSW Police Customer Assistance Unit they will notify you and inform you on how they intend to process your complaint. All complainants are guaranteed confidentiality, so you do not need to fear repercussions, while your complaint is being investigated.
You can expect to be kept informed of the progress and be consulted regarding the action they intend to take to deal with your complaint. You will also be asked at the end of the process if you are satisfied with the action taken in response to your complaint. Once the police have investigated or resolved your complaint they must send a copy of the final report to the NSW Ombudsman. The NSW Ombudsman will then decide whether they are satisfied with how the complaint was investigated this includes whether you as the complainant was satisfied.
What happens if I am not satisfied?
If you aren’t satisfied you can make a complaint to the Ombudsman using their online complaint form or by calling the NSW Ombudsman on 02 9286 1000 or free call 1800 451 524.