Area of Law: Criminal Law
Answer # 792
What happens after a complaint against a police officer is made?Region: Ontario Answer # 792
Just as there are several different ways to complain about a police officer’s conduct, there are different possible results and consequences depending on how you choose to complain.
Consequences of a lawsuit or a criminal charge
If you decide to sue a police officer in a civil lawsuit, or if you decide to lay a criminal charge, a trial will be held in court where you will have to explain your complaint to a judge. If you succeed in convincing the judge of police misconduct, you may be awarded damages, or the officer may be convicted of a criminal offence and sentenced to a penalty.
Consequences of filing a complaint
If you decide to submit a complaint directly to the chief of police of the police service involved, or to the Office of the Independent Police Review Director (OIPRD) several specific procedures will follow. All complaints, regardless of where the complaint was made, will be recorded by the OIPRD. You will be required to sign a complaint form indicating that you have agreed to the complaints process before the OIPRD will look into the case. The OIPRD is an independent organization which is comprised of civilian members and their staff.
The OIPRD is then required to forward the details of complaints made to it to the appropriate authority at the relevant police department. Many police services have a professional standards department responsible for handling complaints made against the service itself, its police officers and its staff.
The OIPRD will classify all complaints received and decide who will investigate them. The OIPRD, the police service involved, or a different police service may be chosen to investigate. In most cases, the OIPRD will assign the police service involved to conduct the investigation. The OIPRD will also provide you with updates about the status of your complaint.
Regardless of who is chosen to investigate a complaint, the investigator will tell the complainant:
- how the complaint will be investigated
- what cooperation is required from the complainant
- how a decision will be reached
- what action will be taken at the end of the investigation.
If an investigation is conducted by the public complaint investigators from the involved police service, the chief of police or O.P.P. Commissioner will determine whether your complaint is about the conduct of a police officer or if the complaint is about the policies and/or services of a police service. The chief or O.P.P. Commissioner will also decide:
- whether you were directly affected by the complained of actions,
- whether the complaint was submitted in a timely manner, and
- whether your complaint was brought in good faith.
Generally, you will need to provide additional information. For example, you may be asked to provide a statement as well as witnesses’ names and telephone numbers. The involved officer(s) will also be contacted and be requested to submit statements and memo book entries. The investigators will obtain all documentary evidence such as radio transmissions, video tapes and photographs, if there are any. The police will provide updates to the OIPRD on the investigation, and the investigators will submit a final report to the chief or O.P.P Commissioner.
Outcomes of an investigation
Once the OIPRD or police have investigated your complaint, they will decide whether your complaint is substantiated, and advise you of their decision and how they plan to proceed. There are two possible results:
First, your complaint may be considered unsubstantiated because of a lack of evidence. The complaint will then be considered closed.
Second, your complaint may be considered substantiated as there was enough evidence to prove that misconduct occurred. In such cases, the investigator must decide if the misconduct was “less (not) serious”, or “serious”. Less (not) serious complaints include neglect of duty, failure to report a matter and improper dress or appearance. Serious complaints include harassment and discrimination, and misconduct or conduct that might result in a criminal charge. The chief of police or O.P.P. Commissioner is responsible for discipline and disciplinary hearings on conduct complaints. If they find that the involved officers misconducted themselves or performed unsatisfactory work, the officers may be disciplined. The nature and degree of discipline will depend on the nature of the complaint and will be decided by the police service.
Less (not) serious misconduct: If the misconduct was determined to be less (not) serious the case may be referred for Informal Resolution. In these circumstances, the outcomes or penalties can include things such as:
- an apology by the police officer
- an explanation by a senior member of the police service or the OIPRD
- suspension of the police officer without pay
- forfeiture of pay, or
- time off.
Serious misconduct: If the misconduct was determined to be serious, a hearing must be held by the police service involved or by the police services board. Penalties can include forfeiture of pay, suspension, demotion or dismissal. In cases where there is evidence that an officer committed a crime, the OIPRD will refer the matter to the police service for further investigation.
Problems with Police service policies: If the complaint is determined to be about a police service procedure or policy, the police service may decide to improve or change its procedures. In addition, the OIPRD may conduct its own systemic review of ongoing issues that affect the police system as a whole.
Review of decision by OIPRD
If you disagree with the final decision made, you may request a review by the OIPRD. It is important to note, however, that you cannot appeal a decision made by the OIPRD pertaining to the classification of a complaint or who will conduct the investigation.
An OIPRD review can be requested in either of the following two circumstances:
- If the police determine your complaint is unsubstantiated
- If the police determine your complaint is not of a serious nature
In both cases, a request for a review must be made within 30 days from the date that you were notified of the decision.
Once the OIPRD has received your request for a review, they will send you a letter to tell you it has been received. The OIPRD will send a copy of your request to the police service involved, and request that they forward all the information the police have about your complaint. Once this has been done, your case will be assessed by the OIPRD and a decision will be made.
If the OIPRD agrees with you, it will give instructions to the chief of police or O.P.P. Commissioner as to what is to be done about your complaint.
If the OIPRD agrees with the chief or Commissioner’s decision, you will be told why this decision was made.
The decision of the OIPRD is final.
For more information about bringing a public complaint against the police or to obtain forms, contact the Office of the Independent Police Review Director.
If you have been charged with a criminal offence, you should consult a lawyer.
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