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How do I report Police Misconduct?

Most people trust that every law enforcement officer uses his or her authority to serve and protect our community. The vast majority of officers do their jobs professionally, and we owe them our thanks. But some officers abuse their authority, or overreact, and injure people or violate their rights. If you witness, or are a victim of, police abuse or misconduct, you have the right to report it. 

Here is some helpful information to know.

Recordings Help, So Do Witnesses

When we began Haddad & Sherwin LLP back in 1998, evidence of police misconduct in the form of an audio or video recording was extremely rare. As cell phones and police body-worn video cameras became more prevalent, recordings of police misconduct became more common. If you have cell phone video, or know of surveillance video, or if the officer was wearing a body-worn video camera and activated it, that recording will be very helpful in proving what happened. If there is no recording but there are witnesses to the incident, they may also be very helpful. Medical documentation and photographs of your injuries are also important pieces of evidence.

While the incident is fresh in your mind, it is helpful to write in detail about what happened, if you intend to consult with a lawyer. Try describing the event as clearly as possible, with as many details as you can remember.

Some important details that are helpful to write down include:

  • A physical description of the involved police officers
  • The officer’s badge numbers and car numbers
  • A description, location, and time of day of the incident 
  • A factual statement, chronologically, of what happened
  • The date and time of your own records 

Complaints About Police Officers

The U.S. Government Official website provides this information for those that have experienced police misconduct and wish to file a citizen’s complaint with the police department involved:

  • Contact the law enforcement agency involved.
  • Submit your complaint in writing to the chief of police or the head of the law enforcement agency involved.
  • Send a copy of your complaint to the Internal Affairs Division of the law enforcement agency. Be sure to keep a copy for yourself.

It is important to keep in mind that police departments and their internal affairs divisions very rarely discipline officers when people make complaints about them. But by making a complaint, you are documenting what happened to you, and if a particular officer receives a lot of complaints, his or her department should review the officer’s performance more carefully. It is well known in law enforcement that a large number of complaints against an officer, even complaints that are not sustained, is an indication that the officer may have problems and need further supervision, training, or discipline.

If you or a loved one were seriously injured by a law enforcement officer and you think you may wish to consult with an attorney about a potential lawsuit, it is best to contact the attorney first, before you file an internal affairs complaint. The attorney may have specific advice that is tailored to your situation.

Haddad & Sherwin LLP has a long, successful track record winning wrongful death and other serious civil rights claims for police and jail officer misconduct, throughout Northern and Central California.  Call or email us for a free consultation.