What you can do

How to complain about the police

If you feel that a police officer or member of police staff has acted inappropriately towards you, you can make a complaint about it. The complaints process for England and Wales is outlined below.

How to make a complaint

There are a number of ways you can do this;

  • Complain directly to the police force involved
  • Make a complaint through your local MP
  • Make a complaint through a solicitor

In the majority of cases your complaint will be dealt with by the Professional Standards Department of the police force involved. All forces have such a department. Your complaint will be recorded by the department and then a decision will be made as to how to best deal with your complaint.

The different ways in which a complaint might be dealt with are outlined below.

Local resolution

This is the simplest way to resolve a complaint, however you must agree to local resolution before it can go ahead. You cannot be forced to use this procedure, and should not feel under pressure to do so.

The police officer in charge of your complaint will get in touch to talk to you about your complaint. You will need to tell them what happened, how you feel about it, and what result you would like to see. You will then need to agree on a process for resolving the matter. This might involve communication with the person your complaint was about.

Local resolution will not lead to misconduct proceedings against an individual police officer or member of police staff. However, they might receive training, advice or further support as a result of the resolution.

Results of a local resolution process might include:

  • An apology
  • Information or an explanation to clear up a misunderstanding
  • A letter explaining what has been done following your complaint to prevent it from happening again, and explaining how the police force has learnt from it
  • Action by a manager to change the way an officer or staff member behaves

If the police do not follow the local resolution process you agreed then you can appeal to the Independent Police Complaints Commission. There are time limits in which to submit your appeal. You cannot appeal against local resolution if you disagree with the end result.

Police investigation

If the complaint is not suitable for local resolution, or if you decide against it, then the Professional Standards Department will appoint an officer to investigate your complaint. The investigating officer will tell you how the complaint will be investigated, what they need from you, how a decision will be reached, and what action will be taken.

You can appeal to the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) about the outcome of a police investigation if you have not received enough information about the findings of the investigation, or about what action the police plan to take.

Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) investigation

If the complaint is more serious, the Professional Standards Department will refer your complaint to the IOPC.

Situations where this might be appropriate include:

  • When someone has died or been seriously injured after contact with the police
  • Serious assault by a member of the police service
  • Serious corruption
  • Criminal offence or behaviour aggravated by discriminatory behaviour
  • The IOPC may decide to conduct a supervised, managed, or independent investigation

IOPC supervised investigation:

This will be conducted and controlled by the police, but supervised by the IOPC. The outcome can be appealed.

IOPC managed investigation:

This will be conducted by the police but controlled by the IOPC. The outcome cannot be appealed.

IOPC independent investigation:

This will be conducted by IOPC investigators into incidents that are of the greatest level of public concern, have the greatest potential to impact on communities, or have serious implications for the reputation of the police service. The outcome cannot be appealed.

For more information about these processes or to make a complaint online, please see the Independent Office for Police Conduct website.

For further information contact Stonewall's Information Service.