Complaints Against Municipal Police (Script 221)
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This script explains how to make a complaint against the following 11 municipal police forces and 3 police agencies:
- New Westminster
- West Vancouver
- Port Moody
- Victoria (also serves Esquimalt)
- Oak Bay
- Central Saanich
- Organized Crime Agency of BC
- Stl’atl’imx Tribal Police
- SCBCTAPS (Skytrain Police)
The RCMP supplies police services to the rest of BC. The complaint process against municipal police forces and RCMP are significantly different. So if your complaint is against the RCMP, check script 220, titled “Complaints Against the RCMP”.
The British Columbia Police Act (the "Act", available at www.bclaws.ca) sets out how to make a complaint against a municipal police force. If you have a complaint against the police, you have the right to give your side of the story and have it dealt with, as explained below.
- 1 How to make a complaint against municipal police – the first step
- 2 After you file a complaint – is it admissible?
- 3 If the complaint is admissible
- 4 Complaint reviewed by Police Complaint Commissioner
- 5 Three types of complaints
- 6 Public trust complaints (Division 3 of the Act)
- 7 Internal discipline complaints (Division 6 of the Act)
- 8 Service or policy complaints (Division 5 of the Act)
- 9 Two other possibilities
- 10 Independent Investigation Office
How to make a complaint against municipal police – the first step
If you have a complaint against the police, you have to fill out a complaint form. The form is available on the website (www.opcc.bc.ca) of the Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner (the "Office"). You can also get the form from any of the police departments listed above. Or you can call the Office (located at 947 Fort Street, Victoria) at 250.356.7458 or toll free at 1.877.999.8707.
You have one year after the incident to make the complaint with the Office. You can hire a lawyer to represent you, but you don’t have to. Your complaint could be about any of several things, for example, a police officer using abusive language or excessive force, failing to perform duties, or something else. There are three types of complaints, as this script will explain.
After you file a complaint – is it admissible?
The Office will review the complaint and decide if it is admissible under Division 3 of the Act. To be admissible, a complaint must describe conduct that, if proven, would be misconduct as the Act defines it. It must also involve an incident that occurred in the last 12 months and it must not be frivolous or vexatious.
If the Office finds that the complaint is not admissible, it will close the file and explain why to you. That decision is final – you cannot appeal it.
If a complaint is not admissible – but it concerns a police department’s services or policies – the police department’s board must deal with it, under Division 5 of the Act.
If the complaint is admissible
The Office will give the complaint to the police department involved for investigation. Then, one of three things will happen: informal settlement, professional mediation, or investigation by a professional standards officer.
1. Informal settlement
In some cases, the police will try to settle a complaint informally. Sometimes, a meeting or phone call can clear up a misunderstanding and lead to a settlement.
2. Professional mediation
In some cases, a professional mediator may meet with you and the police officer to solve the complaint.
3. Investigation by professional standards officer
If neither informal settlement nor mediation work, the police department complained about, or another police department, will investigate the complaint. They must finish investigating within 6 months, but the Police Complaint Commissioner can extend that time. An analyst from the Office monitors the investigation.
Complaint reviewed by Police Complaint Commissioner
If you’re not satisfied with the police investigation, you can ask the BC Police Complaint Commissioner to do one of the following things:
- Appoint a retired judge to review the decision if the complaint was not substantiated.
- Arrange for a review on the record following a discipline proceeding.
- Arrange for a public hearing before a retired judge, called an adjudicator.
The Commissioner is an Officer of the BC Legislature, independent of government and the police. The Commissioner must consider the following things when deciding what to do about your request:
- How serious is the complaint?
- How serious is the harm suffered?
- Is a public hearing needed to discover the truth?
- Did the police make a mistake when they investigated the complaint?
- Is a public hearing, or a review on the record, needed to restore or preserve public confidence in the complaint process and in the police?
The Commissioner will approve or deny your request. The Commissioner may also ask the Solicitor General to order a broader public inquiry under the Inquiry Act.
Three types of complaints
A complaint can be against a municipal constable, a Chief Constable or Deputy Chief Constable, or a municipal police department. There are 3 types of complaints:
- Public trust complaints against a constable, chief constable or deputy chief constable
- Internal discipline complaints against a constable, chief constable or deputy chief constable
- Service or policy complaints against a police department
A “discipline authority” deals with all complaints. The Chief Constable is the discipline authority for complaints against a municipal constable. The Chair of the Police Board is the discipline authority for complaints against a Deputy Chief Constable or Chief Constable. The Police Board is responsible for complaints against a police department.
Public trust complaints (Division 3 of the Act)
This type of complaint involves an officer’s conduct when dealing with a member of the public. The Code of Professional Conduct Regulation says that police officers must deliver fair, impartial, and effective services to their community and are accountable to the public. The Act lists the following types of misconduct:
- discreditable conduct
- neglect of duty
- improper disclosure of information
- corrupt practice
- abuse of authority
- improper use or care of firearms
- damage to police property
- damage to property of others
- misuse of intoxicants
- conduct constituting an offence
- accessory to misconduct
- improper off-duty conduct
Internal discipline complaints (Division 6 of the Act)
This type of complaint involves conduct problems between an officer and their department that don’t affect the public. It is made by a superior or fellow officer – not a member of the public. Labour law principles apply to investigations of these complaints.
Service or policy complaints (Division 5 of the Act)
This type of complaint against a municipal police department claims that the operation of the department is inadequate in terms of:
- standing orders
- supervision and management controls
- training programs and resources
- resource allocation
- procedures or resources that permit the department to respond to requests for assistance
- any other internal operational or procedural matter
Two other possibilities
Suing the police
If a police officer injured you, caused you property damage, or violated your rights, you may be able to sue the officer or the officer’s employer (or both) in civil court. You should get legal advice promptly in this case – there will probably be a time limit for suing.
If you say that a police officer committed a crime or broke a law, the local police force will investigate. The result of the investigation may go to the Regional Crown Counsel – the senior prosecutor for the area – to decide whether to charge the officer with a crime. If the police don’t send a report to the prosecutor, or that person decides not to charge the officer, you can still go to a Justice of the Peace and ask that the officer be charged. For more information, check script 215, called “Charging Someone with a Criminal Offense”.
Independent Investigation Office
In 2011, BC set up the Independent Investigation Office to investigate on- and off-duty police related incidents of death and serious harm. The Police Act requires police to notify the Office of such incidents. The Office investigates incidents involving both municipal police and the RCMP. This is a separate process from making a complaint against the police. More details are available at on the Ministry of Justice website at www.gov.bc.ca/justice. Click on “Policing in BC” and then on “Independent Investigation Office”.
[updated January 2015]
The above was last reviewed for accuracy by George Lee, Jeannette Wong and Anna Kurt.
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