How To Report Police Misconduct
Herlinda Castagnoli USC Gould School of Law, 1L/Rising 2L
When dealing with the police – whether you’re talking to officers, stopped by officers for a traffic violation, or arrested for a crime – you have certain legal rights.
When those rights are violated, you can file a complaint against the officer(s) involved.
Complaints can be made through your local police department or with the Department of Justice (DOJ).
How do I file a complaint?
According to PoliceCrimes.com, you can simply walk into a police station and file a report of officer misconduct.
But obviously, you may not feel comfortable doing so.
Written reports can be either a letter or a complaint form. Complaint forms are often available at the oversight agency, local police station, or online.
In most places, you can also email a complaint, or send it through the postal service.
Experts suggest using Certified Mail so you can prove it was received.
To find all of your options, perform an Internet search for “police misconduct (name of your town).”
However you send it, maintain copies of what you’ve written for personal records.
Do I go to my local police or the Department of Justice?
Complaints made to the Department of Justice are done when you are planning to take legal action against the police.
Complaints made to the police department most often result in punishment or reprimand from the officer’s superior.
What can you file a complaint against the police for?
You can file a complaint to the DOJ for the following:
- Physical Assault
- Sexual Misconduct
- Deliberate Indifference to a Serious Medical Condition or a Substantial Risk of Harm
- Failure to Intervene when a fellow officer violates a person’s constitutional rights.
Here are some common examples of misconduct that can be reported to your local police agency as listed by PoliceCrimes.com:
- Excessive Force
- Soliciting or Accepting Bribes
- Drinking on Duty
- Deprivation of any person’s constitutional rights
- Making a false report
- Use of narcotics (on or off duty)
- Altering information on an official document
- Careless driving
- Racial or ethnic intimidation
- Malicious threats or assault
- Sexual harassment
- Unjustified arrests
- Discriminatory traffic stops
- Criminal police misconduct
What should the complaint say?
Once the incident has taken place, you should write down everything that occurred immediately. You will want your description to cover the who, what, when, where, and how/why components.
Be specific about the details. Clearly describe what happened from the beginning of the encounter to the very end, i.e. what the police officer looked like, who was there to witness the incident, what were the witnesses' names, what did they look like, what were the exact words used, what were the exact actions that took place, how did these actions take place, what was the location, and what was the time of day.
If possible, document the badge and car number of the officer. However, time of day, location, and description are often enough to identify the officer on duty.
If there were any witnesses to the incident, you will want to request that they document an account of what they witnessed. It will be helpful to your case if they file their own complaint.
Submit a copy of any video, audio, or picture that can corroborate your story. Keep the original for your own records.
How should the police respond?
The police should respond within 30 days.
You should receive one of the following responses:
The investigation proves some or all of those allegations made in the complaint.
In this instance, one of the following actions will occur to punish the officer:
- formal written reprimand
- disciplinary probation
- time off without pay
- reduction of salary rate
- demotion and/or discharge.
2. Not Sustained
The investigation failed to prove or disprove the allegations made in the complaint.
The investigation proves the acts did occur but that they were lawful and proper.
The investigation did not prove that the allegations made in the complaint actually occurred.
Sometimes, complaints do not get the desired response. But know that you did well.
All complaints are kept on file, which can be useful if someone else files a complaint against the same officer(s).
If you want affordable legal advice about an experience you had with law enforcement, feel free to contact Court Buddy.