How the complaints system works
The complaints system is more than a disciplinary process for individual officers who have acted wrongly. It is also about making sure police act reasonably and acknowledge when things could have been handled better.
Under Part 8A of the Police Act 1990, any person, including members of the public and other police officers, can complain to NSWPF, our office or the Police Integrity Commission (PIC) about the unreasonable or improper conduct by a police officer. The legislation gives NSWPF the primary responsibility for investigating and resolving all complaints. Our role is to oversee the way police complaint system works.
Police must notify us of all serious complaints, including those involving allegations of criminal, corrupt or improper conduct.
Some less serious complaints, such as those involving rudeness or poor customer service may be resolved informally by local area commanders and are not reported to the Ombudsman. However, we can regularly audit the way these types of less serious complaints are handled.
All police complaints are assessed to find out if:
- it is suitable for a more informal dispute resolution type of approach, or
- it needs to be investigated
Once the police have investigated or resolved a complaint they must send us a copy of the report. It is our role to decide whether we are satisfied with how the complaint was investigated or resolved, the outcome and any action taken as a result. We also look at how long it took to investigate or resolve and whether you as the complainant are satisfied.
What you can complain about
Complaints about police can include:
- abusive behaviour
- use of threats or harassment
- failure to take appropriate action in circumstances of domestic violence
- excessive or unnecessary use of force
- unlawful or unreasonable arrest
- bias or mistreatment by police
- use of unfair or improper interrogation
- failure or delay in providing legal rights
- inappropriate release of confidential information
- unreasonable use of taser, capsicum spray or batons
- apprehended violence and/or stalking by a police officer
- police pursuits and responses to urgent duty resulting in death injury or significant financial loss
A healthy and effective police complaints system is fundamental to exposing and dealing with misconduct. If you believe an officer has been inappropriate, unfair or wrong you can draw attention to the decision or action.
Complaints can identify underlying causes of misconduct and can be used to inform changes or improvements to existing police procedures and training.
What is the role of the NSWPF?
The NSWPF is responsible for deciding whether a complaint is suitable for an evidence based investigation or is more suitable for an informal, dispute resolution approach. The Ombudsman must be notified of this decision.
At the completion of the evidence based investigation the NSWPF must provide the Ombudsman with a report. The report includes all documents considered in the investigation including any DVDs, CDs, tapes or transcripts of any interviews conducted as well as all complaint management records.
It is the responsibility of the NSWPF to provide feedback to a complainant about the outcome of their complaint.
Police have a range of options for managing officers who are found to have engaged in unreasonable or improper conduct. These range from remedial action such as training and counselling, to the removal of an officer on the basis that the officer no longer has the Commissioner’s confidence.
What does the Ombudsman do?
We review the NSWPF’s investigation. If we are not satisfied or we disagree with a decision by police about how to handle a complaint matter, we may:
- ask for additional information
- provide feedback about good practice in complaint handling and potential problems in an investigative approach
- monitor closely the police investigation as it is being conducted
- prepare a report about the investigation if we consider it is deficient
- ask police to review the action if we consider it is inadequate
- report to Parliament if there are issues of significant public interest
The Ombudsman may also conduct direct investigations into complaints and police investigations. When we finish a direct investigation, we give the final report to complainants, the Commissioner and Minister for Police.
How do I make a complaint about a police officer?
There are a number of ways you can make a complaint about NSW Police.
Complain to NSW Police directly
If you feel comfortable making your complaint to police, you can phone or visit your local area command and discuss your concerns with the duty officer or you can contact the Police Assistance Line on 131 444. For further information go to the NSWPF website
You can also put your complaint in writing and send it directly to the relevant NSWPF local area command.
A complaint can be made to NSWPF online.
Complain to the Ombudsman directly
What information should I provide?
When writing a letter of complaint you should provide all the important details including:
- your full name and contact details
- date and time of the incident
- details of what happened
- names of any othe people involved or present
- whether you any other agency is involved in your complaint eg. solicitor
- what outcome you are seeking
- any evidence you may have eg. medical records, photos etc.
- all other details that are relevant to your complaint.
Make sure you include copies of any relevant correspondence between you and Police when you send us your complaint.
Assistance to make a complaint
Special assistance can be provided for complainants who fall within the below categories.
If you are Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander, an Indigenous staff member from the Aboriginal Unit of this office is available to talk to you or handle your complaint. Details on the Aboriginal Unit can be found here.
If you are a non-English speaking person or experience difficulty with English, you or a staff member from this office may contact the Translating and Interpreting Service (TIS) on 131 450 to organise for a translator to help you communicate with us over the telephone.
If you have a hearing or speech impairment, you may communicate with us through the National Relay Service (NRS). The NRS can be contacted by TTY users on 133 677, and Speak and Listen users on 1300 555 727. The NRS also takes internet relay calls. Please ask to be connected to this office on 02 9286 1000.
If you are a young person, please visit our section for young people.
If you are unable to write please call our office and we can assist you to make a complaint.
While we generally require that complaints be submitted to us in writing, if you fall within one of the above categories, or have a disability, we can help to write your complaint. You may alternatively wish to ask a family member, friend or representative to assist you in writing your complaint or to write a complaint on your behalf.
What you can expect from us
We will give your complaint careful attention. We will make a decision on your complaint as quickly as possible. If your complaint is made directly to us, and is not referred for investigation by police, we will tell you why. We will also advise you if the complaint is referred for investigation, and what you should expect from police.
Our role is to act impartially and in the public interest. This means that we do not advocate for complainants or police.