Police complaints: handling casework involving dissatisfaction with the police

Constituents sometimes contact their MP because they are dissatisfied with the police. Some constituents seek their MP’s help to complain about the police. This constituency casework article is part of a series designed to support MPs and their staff handling these types of cases.

This article outlines helpful questions to consider before working on casework involving dissatisfaction with the police. Separate articles help MPs and their staff to understand the police complaints system and handle casework involving a police complaint.

Questions to consider before handling casework involving dissatisfaction with the police

Is my constituent expressing general dissatisfaction with the performance of our police force?

If your constituent is expressing general dissatisfaction with the performance of your local force, you might consider working with your local Police and Crime Commissioner (or the Mayor’s Office in Greater Manchester/ London). PCCs/ Mayors are directly elected politicians who are responsible for holding their chief constables to account for the delivery of police services. They have specific powers to do this. They’re also responsible for setting a budget and priorities for their local force. Further information about PCCs can be found in the Library research briefing Policing in the UK.

PCCs/ Mayors may conclude that your constituents’ concerns are best dealt with as a complaint. When this is the case, they will handle the complaint appropriately.   

The Scottish Police Authority and the Northern Ireland Policing Board provide a similar function to PCCs in their respective countries. The Scottish Parliament and the Northern Ireland Assembly are responsible for scrutinising the work of these bodies (and the delivery of policing services in their country).

English and Welsh police forces and the Police Service of Northern Ireland are inspected by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS). They publish annual assessments of the performance of individual forces. The Library research briefing Policing in the UK describes the HMICFRS inspection regime in detail and provides an overview of the performance of English and Welsh police forces. Police Scotland is inspected by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate for Constabulary in Scotland.

Can my constituent complain?

A separate constituency casework article outlines helpful questions to ask when supporting constituents who have already complained and are seeking support with the complaints process.

If a member of the public is dissatisfied with the police, they can complain. It doesn’t matter what they’re dissatisfied about: they might disapprove of how their crime report was handled, how they were dealt with by the police or critical of a force wide policy/ procedure/ initiative.

However, if your constituent is concerned about the behaviour of someone serving in the police, but they haven’t been personally adversely affected by this behaviour; they can’t complain about it. The police may be able to respond to their concern outside the complaints process so the constituent might still wish to bring it to their attention.

The public can complain about an incident no matter when it took place but the sooner they make a complaint, the more likely it is to be addressed.

The public can complain to their local force, their PCC/ Mayor or the IOPC. Most complaints are dealt with by local forces.

Are my constituents concerned about how the police handled their personal data?

Constituents who are concerned about how the police handled their personal data can contact the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO). The ICO is often the more appropriate body to raise these types of concerns with.

The ICO has published information about the right to access personal information held by police forces.

The Library’s constituency casework article criminal records explains the information retained in criminal records and how to apply to get a criminal record deleted.

Is my constituent a victim unhappy about how the police handled their case?

All victims of crime can expect a minimum level of service once their case has been recorded by the police. In England and Wales victims of the most serious crimes and those who are vulnerable or persistently targeted have the right to challenge a charging decision.

The Library’s constituency casework article support for victims of crime explains what victims of crime should expect from the criminal justice system and more about a victims right to challenge a charging decision.

What can my constituent expect from making a complaint?

Making a complaint to the police could help resolve your constituents’ concerns. It provides the police with an opportunity to clarify the action they took (or their policies) or apologise if they made a mistake. Your constituent’s compliant could lead to important learnings for those involved and their force.

Complaints concerning the conduct of police personnel can result in formal disciplinary processes. The exact process that is followed depends on the seriousness of the misconduct. If there is sufficient evidence that someone working in the police committed a crime, there will be a criminal investigation.

Is my constituent seeking financial compensation?

The police complaints system is not the appropriate avenue to seek financial compensation from the police. Constituents seeking financial compensation should negotiate directly with the force concerned. They might be able to initiate civil proceedings to pursue compensation if they can’t reach an agreement out of court.

Those seeking financial compensation from the police should consult legal advice. Information about accessing legal advice can be found on the Library’s casework page Legal help: where to go and how to pay.