Making Police Complaints

What is this service?

This page answers some frequently asked questions about making a formal complaint about NSW Police. It is not a substitute for legal advice. If you have been involved in an incident with police seek legal advice as soon as possible.

Redfern Legal Centre runs a free police complaints advice service for people living in New South Wales. You can contact RLC for legal advice by phoning (02) 9698 7277.

Frequently Asked Questions

What can I complain about?

You have a right to complain if you have concerns about your interaction wth: a specific police officer, a person employed by NSW Police, or the NSW Police Force. Common police complaint matters include:

  • Illegal or improper arrest
  • failure to investigate an alleged offence (especially in cases of domestic violence)
  • improper or illegal search 
  • Unjustified or improper strip search
  • Excessive and ongoing police visits
  • Excessive or improper use of force 

Who can I complain to?

You can lodge your complaint either:

The LECC is the independent oversight body for the NSW Police. You should be aware that even if you send your complaint to the LECC, it may be referred to NSW Police for investigation. The LECC only investigates matters considered to be serious misconduct or serious maladministration. 

Redfern Legal Centre recommends directing your complaint to the LECC in most instances. Even if your complaint is referred to NSW Police for investigation, this ensures that the LECC is put on notice about your complaint. The LECC may also decide to monitor how police handle a complaint to ensure their investigation is adequate.

Can I make a complaint anonymously?

Yes, you can make a complaint anonymously. But this will mean you will not be able to be informed about the outcome of your complaint.

How do I lodge a complaint?

A formal complaint about police must be made in writing. If you are not able to put your complaint in writing, you can ask the LECC to help you.

Visit How to Make a Police Complaint for more information and to access useful letter templates.

What do I need to do before lodging a complaint?

It is generally recommended that you obtain police records relating to any incident you want to complain about before making your complaint. This is advised because it may provide supporting evidence for your complaint. You can then address this in your complaint. Police records can be obtained by making an application under the Government Information (Public Access) Act 2009 (NSW). You can find the application form on the NSW Police website. 

You can can access a guide about lodging an GIPA application at How to Obtain Police Records.The guide explains how to fill in the application and includes a sample schedule of documents to attached to your application.

If you think other parties (such as licensed venues or local councils) might hold CCTV footage of an incident, you can request the venue retain footage, which may assist your complaint. CCTV footage is usually not stored for very long, so it is important to write to these parties as soon as possible after the event.

Visit Other Letter Templates for a CCTV Retention Letter Template.

Is there a time limit for making a complaint?

There is no strict time limit for making a complaint. However, police have the power to refuse to investigate if the incident occurred “too long ago” to justify an investigation. It is advised that you submit your complaint within 12 months of the incident.

If you have pending criminal proceedings, you should seek legal advice about whether you should wait until those proceedings are finalised before making a complaint.

What happens after I make a complaint?

Once NSW Police receive your complaint, it will be assessed and a decision will be made about whether to investigate. NSW Police can decline to investigate complaints for various reasons, including: if they think the complaint is frivolous or vexatious; the conduct occurred “too long ago”; or action has already been taken to remedy the misconduct.

If NSW Police do investigate your complaint, it will be assigned to an independent police officer for investigation. Complaint investigations may take up to 90 days, but in some circumstances they can take longer.

You may be contacted to attend an interview. You should seek legal advice before participating in a formal interview.

What outcome can I expect?

At the conclusion of the investigation, you will be notified whether your complaint was ‘sustained’ (supported) or ‘not sustained’ (not supported). You should also be told about what disciplinary action (if any) was or will be taken against the officer(s) involved.

When a complaint is sustained, the action taken against police officers ranges from remedial action (such as additional training or an apology) to more serious action such as criminal charges or dismissal from NSW Police.

What can I do if I'm dissatisfied with the outcome?

If you are unhappy with the outcome of your complaint, you can ask for your complaint to be reviewed by the LECC.  The LECC may ask NSW Police to investigate further, or if they disagree with the decision of police, they may ask police to review their decision. In most instances, the LECC will not conduct their own investigation unless a complaint raises very serious misconduct.

If you think NSW Police did not look into your complaint properly, this can be a basis for a new (and more serious) complaint to NSW Police.

Are there consequences for making a complaint?

You should not experience any negative police attention for making a complaint. If you do, this would be grounds for a further and more serious complaint.

Making a false complaint about the conduct of a police officer is an offence. Providing false or misleading information during the course of a complaint investigation is also an offence. Both offences carry a maximum penalty of a $5500 fine, 12 months’ imprisonment, or both.

Do I have to make a formal complaint?

Less serious complaints, such as those involving poor customer service or rudeness, can be made informally, and do not need to be made in writing. You can do this by visiting your local police station, or by calling the NSWPF Customer Assistance Unit on 1800 622 571.

Further information about making a police complaint and Redfern Legal Centre's free police complaints service is available here.