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:
Victoria and Esquimalt
Stl’atl’imx Tribal Police
SCBCTAPS (Skytrain Police)
Organized Crime Agency of BC
The RCMP polices the rest of BC. The complaint process against municipal police forces and the 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 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 Two other possibilities
- 7 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 with the Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner). You can also get the form from any of the police departments listed above. Or you can call the Office (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 complain to the Office. You can hire a lawyer to represent you, but you don’t have to. Your complaint could be about 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 explains later.
After you file a complaint – is it admissible?
The Office will review the complaint and decide if it is admissible under 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 tell you why. That decision is final – you cannot appeal it.
If the complaint is admissible
The Office will then decide how to handle the complaint. The options include an informal resolution, mediation, or a formal investigation.
1. Informal resolution
- For less serious complaints, a facilitator can help the parties resolve the conflict. The facilitator is usually a trained, senior member of the police department. This process is available only if both the complainant and police officer agree to it. Sometimes, a meeting or phone call can clear up a misunderstanding and lead to a settlement.
- In some cases, a trained mediator may meet with the complainant and the police officer to help them settle the complaint.
3. Formal investigation
- For more serious complaints, an analyst with the Office will oversee a formal investigation by the police department complained about, or another police department. This takes about 6 months, but the Police Complaint Commissioner can extend the time. If the investigation report is approved by the Office and the discipline authority (explained below) the complainant and the police officer will receive a copy of the authority’s decision and the investigation report.
Complaint reviewed by Police Complaint Commissioner
If you’re not satisfied with the result, you can ask the Commissioner to do a further review. If the Commissioner disagrees with the decision, they can 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 Lieutenant Governor in Council to order a broader public inquiry under the Public Inquiry Act.
Three types of complaints
A complaint can be made 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 complaints and is defined in section 76 of the Act. 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 (section 77)
Public trust complaints involve 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)
Internal discipline complaints involve conduct problems between an officer and their department that don’t affect the public. They are 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)
Service or policy complaints against a municipal police department claim 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 the prosecutor 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 Offence”.
Independent Investigation Office
In 2012, the Independent Investigation Office started operating. It investigates 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.
[updated August 2017]
The above was last reviewed for accuracy by Yulina Wang and edited by John Blois.
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