Dealing With Complaints By the Public

You just returned after a 3 day weekend, only to find a note from your Sgt. A citizen filed a complaint and the Sarge wants answers. Now what? Are you getting fired? Will your brother-in-law give you a job at his used car lot? If this is your first complaint, you probably have no idea what to expect – or have the wrong idea, which can be even worse.

Police ComplaintFirst, forget everything you’ve ever seen on TV and most of what you’ve heard in the locker room. If you go into the Sgt’s office crashing and banging like a bull in a china shop, thumping your chest and proclaiming how lucky they are to have you, the complaint will be the least of your problems! Approach it as you would any other situation – survey the scene, collect the evidence and respond accordingly. No point getting worked up unless there is a reason. It might be nothing. The Sgt. might agree with your actions. Either way, if he is doing his job, he will need to hear your side before responding.

Second, think about what has happened that could have drawn a complaint. Chances are, if it is serious you know what prompted it and it comes as no surprise. If this is the case I hope you took some quick notes or completed a report after the incident. If nothing earth-shattering happened, and you are not running an illegal escort service on Craigslist, there is nothing you can do except deal with it.

Third, if you have not already learned now is as good a time as any – complaints happen. Bad cops get complaints, but so do good cops doing their job. No one likes being told they are wrong, whether that means getting arrested or getting a ticket or even a well-meaning warning. Most busy cops eventually get a complaint, not because they are wrong but because they are playing a game of averages. Other cops, including bosses and IA, understand this.

Fourth, if you were wrong, do the right thing. Professionally we expect people to take responsibility when they do wrong, and we should expect nothing less from ourselves. So, if you did wrong, step up and admit it, take your lumps and move on. I am not saying you should fall on your sword. If you are entitled to union representation, get it. If you are allowed to present your side, do it. Protect your rights and make sure you get a fair shake. But sometimes you know you mucked up and so do your bosses. In the end, everyone will have more respect for you if you can admit when you are wrong.

Fifth, learn from your mistakes. We’ve all heard this before and it is true. Everyone makes mistakes, even cops. If you did make a mistake, or just approached a situation in a manner that gave the public the impression that you did so, learn from it. More importantly, do your best not to repeat it. Everyone is entitled to a second chance or the benefit of the doubt. Very few people are deserving of a third, fourth or fifth chance if they continually make the same “mistake.”

Disclaimer: The content in this article is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the policies or opinions of US Patriot Tactical.

Tom Burrell

Tom Burrell

Tom enlisted in the US Marine Corps Reserves in 1987. Following service in Desert Storm, he transitioned to active duty with the US Coast Guard. In 1997 he left the USCG to pursue a position in conservation & maritime law enforcement. Tom is currently a Captain and he oversees several programs, including his agency investigation unit. He is also a training instructor in several areas including firearms, defensive tactics and first aid/CPR. In 2006 Tom received his Associate’s Degree in Criminal Justice from Harrisburg Area Community College and in 2010 a Bachelor’s Degree from Penn State University.
Tom Burrell

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