how to file a complaint against a police officer

If you were unfairly treated by a Florida law enforcement officer, you have the right to file a complaint for police misconduct. This includes situations in which you believe an officer intentionally and/or maliciously left out information in your police report, an important document in personal injury cases.

State, county, and city police and sheriff’s departments have a complaints process where citizens can file a complaint, but the process can be intimidating for many people. Fortunately, an experienced attorney with Lytal, Reiter, Smith, Ivey & Fronrath can help protect your interests.

Purpose of filing a complaint against a police officer

Citizen complaints act as a deterrent for other officers who may be tempted to engage in misconduct, and they permit the administration with helpful insight into how the officers behave and are treating the members of the communities where they serve.

From a personal injury standpoint, police officers must fulfill their duty to protect the public by thoroughly investigating the scene of a potentially negligent act, creating reports, and taking statements from involved parties.

However, police departments receive dozens of frivolous complaints each year, which is why departments need to take a close look at the filed complaints — for every legitimate claim, there may be several false ones.

Importance of holding police officers accountable

Many people may be met with overwhelming negativity if they attempt to file a complaint on their own, or they might unintentionally miss a step that might cause their complaint to be overlooked.

Nevertheless, police officers engaging in misconduct should be held accountable for their actions, and having a process allowing citizens to report a grievance improves the trust of police officers in a community.

Filing a complaint

Determine the correct agency for the complaint

Your complaint will need to be filed with the law enforcement agency where that officer is employed. If you received a citation, then the officer’s name and agency should be on the citation.

If you aren’t sure which department employs the offending officer, there are a few ways you can determine the correct agency for the complaint.

  • Determine which agency has jurisdiction over the location of the incident. However, there are times when an outside agency may assist another, such as the county sheriff’s office assisting on a call when the city police are tied up on another matter, so it can be difficult who to contact.
  • Ways to identify the agency:
    • Sheriff’s deputies:
      • Have forest green and white patrol cars and motorcycles.
      • Have a badge in the shape of a five-pointed star with a replica of the state’s seal and map in the center.
      • Often wear green uniforms.
    • City police officers:
      • Usually wear dark blue uniforms.
      • Predominantly handle calls within the limits of their city.
    • Florida Highway Patrol (also called troopers):
      • Often wear tan uniforms.
      • Rarely handle calls within city limits or on roads other than freeways or highways, except they might assist with some traffic collisions or DUI investigations.
  • If you can’t recall those details but have the officer’s name, you can conduct an internet search using their name, the city or county where the incident occurred, and either “officer,” “deputy,” or “trooper.”

file complaint against florida cop

Determine the correct way to file

Each municipality has its own complaint protocols, so it’s important that you research how that department accepts and processes them. Some important things to look for are:

  • Do they have a specific form that must be used?
  • Does the complaint need to be filed in person, or can it be submitted via mail or online?
  • Is there a timeframe after the incident in which you must file your complaint?
  • If you have supporting evidence for your complaint such as a witness statement, photos, videos, or audio, how do you provide that information?
  • Do they have policies to protect against retaliation?

Information and evidence to include in your complaint

In addition to a detailed account of what happened, important information to include in your complaint is the date, time, and location of the incident. If there were any witnesses, include their name and their statement with your complaint.

You should also include any photos, videos, or other evidence that can corroborate your complaint. The more you include with your complaint, the higher the likelihood that it’ll be taken more seriously.

Make copies of everything you plan to submit and keep it in a safe place.

What to expect after filing the complaint

In Florida, any citizen complaint against a police officer is brought before a Complaint Review Board comprising three members:

  1. One is selected by the officer who’s under investigation. It may be a colleague or friend of the officer.
  2. The second member is selected by the chief administrator of the police agency.
  3. The third member is selected by the other two members.

If this composition makes it seem like it would be difficult for your complaint to get a fair hearing, you may not be wrong. It’s important for you to level the playing field with your own counsel to assist you with filing the complaint and helping you at the hearing, especially if you were injured or sustained damages as a result of the officer’s conduct.

Investigation process and outcome

The complaint might first be referred for an internal affairs (IA) investigation. The IA investigation might be done by an in-house division of the agency composed of the officer’s peers or superiors who have specialized training, or it can be done by an outside agency that specializes in these investigations.

Whoever conducts the investigation must do so fairly and impartially. The findings of the investigation may be presented to the Complaint Board, along with the evidence you and your attorney presented.

After the hearing, the agency may suspend or otherwise discipline or reprimand the officer. However, the Board could decide that your complaint is baseless. If this happens, you might have other options for seeking a resolution.

Potential remedies

If you don’t have a satisfactory resolution from the Complaint Board, you might be able to file a civil suit against the officer and their employing agency.

Protecting yourself during the complaint process

Once the complaint is filed, Florida law permits the officer in question to have access to everything that was submitted for the investigation. Although it would be unwise of a police officer or others to retaliate after a complaint is filed against them, that doesn’t mean it won’t happen. You should take steps to protect yourself.

Seeking legal advice

Your attorney has an intimate and in-depth understanding of the legal system and can help keep you from making a mistake. They can also protect you if you suspect you may become a victim of retaliation or intimidation.

Documenting any harassment or retaliation

Any form of harassment should be documented. Note the vehicle or license plate numbers of any official vehicles or other cars that you feel might be related to harassment or retaliation. Try to take photos or videos if you can. Give all your evidence to your lawyer and allow them to handle the matter.

Do you need legal advice to file a complaint against a Florida police officer?

At Lytal, Reiter, Smith, Ivey & Fronrath, we believe the justice system only works when all parties are held accountable. If you’ve been wronged or harmed by an officer, but are unsure how to file a complaint against them, call (561) 655-1990 today to schedule a free initial consultation with one of our esteemed Florida personal injury lawyers.