You can make your complaint orally or in writing. If in writing, the complaint can be in the form of a letter, or a statement, or you can fill in a complaint form (the Victoria Police and IBAC have complaint forms on their websites; see “Contacts”). If you make the complaint orally, the police or IBAC officer who listens to your complaint will put the substance of your complaint into a written statement.
Along with your complaint, you should submit any evidence you have collected to support your allegations (see “Collecting evidence”).
You need to be especially careful when making a complaint in writing that all the details are absolutely correct, particularly if you swear that it is a true statement. You can render yourself liable to the offence of perjury if you make significant mistakes in the statement, or if you contradict yourself in other statements made earlier or later.
If a police officer or IBAC officer writes a statement based on your oral complaint, do not allow the written statement to depart from your oral account. If necessary, ask the police or IBAC officer to alter the statement, even if this is inconvenient. It is very important to get your statement right. You can be cross-examined on your statement if you give evidence in related criminal or civil proceedings.
If you complain in writing, make sure you keep a copy of the complaint.
You can make a complaint at any time while you are at a police station (whether you are there voluntarily or not) or in police custody. The police officer in charge of the station (usually a senior sergeant) is required to take note of the complaint or refer it to an inspector.
Before anyone is released from a police station (after they have been questioned or charged), they are usually asked whether they have any complaint about the quality of treatment they received while in police custody. Those who do have a complaint about their treatment are asked to provide more details, or to wait for an inspector to come to the station.
Many people who have a complaint say they have no complaint because they are keen to leave the police station, or because they are scared of complaining to the immediate superior of the police officer they are complaining about, or they do not want to make a complaint to the very person about whom they have a grievance. However, if you do not complain at the police station, your credibility may be challenged when you make a complaint later.
One option is to tell the police officer at the police station that you do have a complaint, but you intend to lodge your complaint after being released and after obtaining legal advice. This is a good response even if you are not sure that you will lodge a complaint: you are not committed to any course of action, but if you decide to complain later, you have indicated your intention early on.
Another option is to refrain from answering the question about whether or not you have a complaint about the quality of treatment you received while in police custody. Legally, you are under no obligation to answer this question (or to sign the attendance register at the police station). A police officer cannot detain you for declining to answer this question or for not signing the attendance register.
If you chose to delay lodging your complaint, you can support your complaint with documents obtained from the police through a freedom of information (FoI) request. The process for making a FoI request is set out in Freedom of information law. Which documents you request through FoI depend on the nature of your complaint. The types of documents you can request include:
• use of force forms;
• police diary notes, patrol duty return sheets, and initial action pads;
• briefs of evidence;
• charge sheets;
• CCTV and audio recordings from police body worn cameras, divisional vans, police cells, and police station charge counters;
• LEAP incident reports;
• custody modules.
Your letter requesting documents under freedom of information should be addressed to the Victoria Police – Freedom of Information Office (see “Contacts”).