After initial police training I was posted to my first station and given a welcome introduction by a grumpy old Inspector. I didn't think about it at the time but he would have joined the police in the mid 1950's, a very different world from today. He told me that he expected me to get complaints. 'Any officer who doesn't get complaints, isn't doing his job.' He also told me that if I ever got assaulted and ended up in hospital, the offender had better be there too. 'In intensive care!' Sometime later I recall walking past his office and heard him on the phone, almost shouting. 'My officers wouldn't do that. How dare you complain about my officers. Now, go away and stop wasting my time!' He would however, summon the officer concerned and God help them if he thought they had done something wrong. That is how most complaints were dealt with in those days.
I didn't let him down and in every rank I have held, I have received a lot of complaints. As a PC, I spent a lot of my time policing a busy town centre. I didn't tolerate all the drunken yobbery taking place and arrested hundreds of them resulting in a lot of rolling around on the ground and numerous complaints of false arrest, assault. excessive force, abuse etc. I have kept a folder full of all the notices you are given to inform you that you are under investigation for a complaint. I went through them recently and found some quite bizarre ones I had forgotten about. e.g. 'While searching X you squeezed his testicles and when you searched his car, you stole a packet of polo mints.' and 'When driving a police vehicle in XXX Street you stared at Mr Y causing him to hit the kerb and fall off his bike causing injury.' I never even recalled seeing Mr Y.
Nowadays most of my complaints stem from members of the public who haven't got what they want from their local beat officer. They ring me and demand that their issue is dealt with. If it is reasonable and we should be doing it, I agree. If not, I don't. For example, Mr Bloggs rings me demanding that we prosecute his neighbour for putting his bins out on the footpath the night before collection. The local officer has declined to do so. I try and reason with him but he won't have it and I get a complaint. I have had about 120 complaints made against me during my career. These complaints have taken hundreds or thousands of hours to deal with. I can honestly say that not one of these complaints is justified and none have ever been upheld.
The other Saturday I was about to get out of the office on patrol when I get a call to attend the front office. John Smith is in there, he has just been released from custody and wants to make a complaint of assault. I go and have a quick look at the custody record. Smith was smashed out of his brains and tried to start a fight in a local takeaway. The police attend and he decides he wants to fight them. He gets taken hold of and put face down on the ground, handcuffed and taken to the station. In custody it is noted he has a large graze to the side of his face. A doctor is called out to check him, and to examine the officers for cuts to the knuckles etc. There is CCTV of the arrest and the officers actions are reasonable and justified. In the morning Smith is charged with threatening behaviour and resisting arrest. He is released on bail and walks straight round to the front office to make his complaint. He knows the system and when he goes to Court, he wants to be able to say that in defence of the charges he has made a complaint against the officers who arrested him and that it is under investigation. The magistrates are not empowered these days to lock very many people up. They are even more reluctant to do so if someone has made a complaint, in case it is justified. I just wish they would cotton on to the fact that every bugger has made a complaint. To be fair to John Smith he is also very angry. His face looks a mess, but it is superficial grazing.
I ask him what his complaint is. 'Look at my fucking face. Your fucking officers beat me up.' I calmly explain to him the circumstances of his arrest and that the officers may have used perfectly reasonable force to arrest him. The incident is recorded on CCTV and just because he has injuries does not mean that he has been unlawfully assaulted. 'Look at my face! I'm the best man at a fucking wedding this afternoon. Your officers assaulted me and I want to make a complaint.' I would really like to give him the response that my old Inspector did but nowadays the only thing you might get into trouble for is not recording the complaint, even if it is complete tosh.
I fill in the forms and send them off to Professional Standards. I ensure that CCTV of the incident is retained. Smith has wasted the first couple of hours or so of police time that will add up to 20 or more before this complaint is now filed. Smith will either fail to co-operate with the investigation, in which case after his Court appearance it will be written off, once agreed by the IPCC. Alternatively, CCTV will be copied and sent to all and sundry, he will make a statement, the officers will be interviewed, witnesses will be interviewed and statements taken. The file will be sent to the IPCC and he will be told that there is no case against the officers.
I have sat in many an interview with our Complaints Department, or Professional Standards as they are now called, thinking how many more crimes might we investigate if we were not spending so much time dealing with this nonsense.
I do understand that there needs to be a robust complaints procedure that everyone has confidence in. There are some current issues ongoing, such as the Tomlinson case, where officers behaviour is questionable to say the least. The problem is that the system is being abused and overwhelmed which actually makes it more difficult to identify and deal with inappropriate behaviour. We need a system that quickly allows the bogus and unjustified complaints to be dispensed with which will allow more focus on the cases that require it. Incidentally, regarding the incident in the above photo, the IPCC decided that the force used by the officers was justified. This went largely unreported of course.
Between my old Inspector, above, and the current situation, as in many areas of policing, complaints have become a bureaucratic nightmare detracting from public confidence and reducing focus on the real issues.
The opinions and views expressed here are mine, and mine alone. They do not necessarily reflect the policies and views of the Utopian Police Force nor the City of Utopia.
The stories I tell here are all true but my purpose is not technical accuracy. My purpose is to illustrate the nature of policing in an educational and entertaining way.
I have tried to respect the privacy of the citizens of the city and to relate specific facts without identifying individuals. I believe I succeed in this but if you do recognize yourself and believe others will too, please contact me and I shall rectify it.