It is critical to act promptly and carefully record the details of the complaint as well as taking down contact details for witnesses, getting legal advice, taking photos, and seeing a doctor or forensic medical officer if there have been any injuries.
If you decide to complain, you should make your version of events as credible as possible by taking the following steps.
1 Act promptly
Make your complaint quickly (subject to the issues raised in this chapter).
2 Make a record of the event
If you do not lodge your complaint straightaway, make a detailed record (in writing or on tape) as soon as possible after the event. Include all your recollections of what occurred in as much detail as you can. If you record the event in writing, sign and date what you have written and, if you can, get someone else to witness this. If possible, record the names, ranks and badge numbers of the police involved in the incident. It is also useful to describe in detail the appearance of anyone involved in the incident, including police. This can make a big difference later when it is not always easy to identify who did what and who was present. If you need to recount a conversation, do it as accurately as you can, using the actual words spoken, in the “I said”, “he said”, style.
3 Make a note of witnesses
Write down the names and descriptions of any people who witnessed the event and, if you are able to, encourage them to write down or record what they saw.
4 Contact a lawyer
Contact a lawyer who is experienced in dealing with police complaints. Discuss the appropriateness of lodging your complaint with the PSC, IBAC or with local senior police. If you do not know a lawyer experienced in handling police complaints, you can consult a community legal centre (see Legal services that can help).
If you have injuries, before contacting a lawyer, you should get photographs of your injuries and obtain a medical record of your injuries (points 5 and 6 below). You should make a note of who saw you immediately before you went into police custody and whom you saw immediately afterwards; these people can corroborate that you did not have the injuries before you went into police custody and that you did have them straight after you left the police. Try to get these people to write an account of what they recall.
Get photographs of your injuries straightaway after the event and a few days afterward when the bruises have come out. Make sure the photographs are focused and in perspective. If you go quickly to IBAC or the PSC, they will arrange for a photographer to take pictures of your injuries.
6 Obtain a medical record of any injuries
If you have any injuries, report what happened to a doctor. Try to ensure that the doctor makes a record of all of your injuries. Again, if you go quickly to IBAC or the PSC, they will arrange for a Forensic Medical Officer (FMO) to examine you. FMOs are doctors from the Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine who specialise in examining injuries, and can be of great assistance because of their experience in such matters. Community legal centres can also assist you to locate an FMO.