Can I Get a Complaint Form?

Tuesday, February 28th, 2012

No. No, you can’t.

Favorite part: “It’s a free country.”


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52 Responses to “Can I Get a Complaint Form?”

  1. #1 |  V-Man | 

    For those without access to YouTube, can you summarize the video?

  2. #2 |  Nathan | 

    Tons of people trying to get complaint forms from police, all getting refused.

  3. #3 |  dsp | 

    And intimidated. You forgot that.

  4. #4 |  Sinchy | 

    Kafka meets Orwell meets candid Camera

  5. #5 |  JimBob | 


    It’s a group of folks, going in with hidden cameras to see if they can get forms to file complaints against cops. When they do, the cops are intimidating them, demanding identification, arresting the complainants, and telling them to “leave the city” or face arrest.

    I seem to recall reading a while back that this is part of an operation run by a group of former cops, and that they focus on departments that have stated policies of providing forms without question. I think the group is called the “Police Complaint Center”, but don’t quote me on that.

  6. #6 |  Difster | 

    I want to know the follow up and what happened with the arrests. Follow up! I want follow up!

  7. #7 |  Jesse | 

    I believe I saw a few of these clips in the context of an original news story while back and they went back later, with a reporter and camera crew. They basically got brushed off again, although there wasn’t the blatant intimidation.

  8. #8 |  nigmalg | 

    This video is a gem. A few of my local police departments were included.

  9. #9 |  Deoxy | 

    Wow, that would open some eyes… if only people would watch it.

  10. #10 |  Difster | 

    The sad part is, lots of people would see the cops actions and defend them by saying, well, they have a right to know. It’s their job.

    WRONG! If I have a complaint, I don’t want anyone to know what the complaint is until I file it with the proper person.

  11. #11 |  SJE | 

    Once more for “New Professionalism.”

  12. #12 |  Endless Mike | 

    I wonder if ANY of them just handed him the damn form…

  13. #13 |  rapscallion | 

    I think alot of these come from

    Here’s an Dateline investigation that they feature:

    Bottom line: 7/15 departments violated procedure somehow regarding complaint forms in the initial investigation. A police representative apologized and said they’d deal with it. 3 months later, 8/17 violated procedure again.

    I’m pretty sure 60 minutes did a similar investigation with pretty much the same results at some point.

    It’s beyond obvious that the cops know they can get away with screwing complainants.

  14. #14 |  StrangeOne | 

    I remember a local news station did the same kind of thing in Charlotte when I was in high school. They had a black guy asking for the complaint form, in only one department was he given the forms without question and told where to mail them to. Most of the cops in other departments flat out laughed at him and used some colorful language to inform him they had no intention of letting him complain about anything. Some made actual threats against him.

  15. #15 |  Eric | 

    What struck me about it is how many of the cops went right to demanding ID. I’d guess that most people don’t understand their rights (i.e. that unless a cop has reasonable suspicion that you are engaged in criminal activity he has no right to legally demand your ID). But even if you know that a cop has no right to demand your ID, the only practical thing you can do once he’s asked for it – unless you are willing to risk arrest or detention in refusing to provide it – is disengage and leave.

    That is a depressingly effective deterrent for cops. Just wrongfully demand ID and then watch the guy walk away.

  16. #16 |  Jack Dempsey | 

    And cops wonder why the public at large considers them all to be a$$h@les.

  17. #17 |  marty | 

    The arrogance, the smugness, the oozing of contempt that seems almost instinctive to these “thugs with badges” is disgusting.

    And to think, they are supposed to be serving us….

    To any cops out there…..don’t be surprised that more and more of us who are old enough to have grown up with respect for cops as part of our culture and upbringing, have lost a great deal of it.

    FAR too many of you….FAR TOO MANY now look like nothing but ‘roided up punks with a badge and NOT what you pass yourselves off as- law enforcement officers.

  18. #18 |  picachu | 

    If I had lived in Nazi Germany I probably wouldn’t have complained to the Gestapo about how the Gestapo treated people.

  19. #19 |  StrangeOne | 

    Also consider this one more bullet point for “never talking to cops”. Get a lawyer, find what the realistic chances are for filling suit or pressing charges are, and have them send all the necessary letters.

    For that matter, remember that the slap on wrist punishment for bad cops is desk duty. So in all likelihood the guy at the station is far more likely to be a dick than your typical cop.

  20. #20 |  Jesse | 

    When the cop puts his hand on the gun and threatens the guy, the guy should have said “OK now I’ll tell you what I want to complain about sir.”

  21. #21 |  dsp | 

    @Eric, be careful, many states have “Stop and Identify” laws.

    More here:

  22. #22 |  Tim | 

    find out how hard it actually is to find a lawyer that will go up against cops now.
    that’s how bad this really is.

  23. #23 |  Juice | 

    This funtime video was on the sidebar:

  24. #24 |  JimBob | 

    Ah, looks like I was wrong about the source. Still, pretty fucked up that they will straight-up arrest a guy just for showing up and asking for a complaint form.

    As for the “Lemme see some ID” bullshit– I wish stuff like the “Flex Your Rights” videos for stop-and-identify laws. Brown, Hiibel, etc. The “I do not consent to any searches” line is good, but more people need to be ready to ask “Am I suspected of a crime?”

  25. #25 |  BamBam | 

    @20 asking for a complaint form is not a crime, and thus Stop and Identify is not a plausible excuse.

  26. #26 |  JimBob | 


    Stop-and-identify statutes don’t hold up unless the officer has reasonable suspicion that you’ve committed a crime. Hiibel only upheld laws which require that the officer have reasonable suspicion; Brown struck down laws that required ID for no other reason than the officer’s prerogative.

    It’s important to know your state’s laws, but none of the guys in the video above were suspected of a crime beyond “contempt of cop”. They had every right to withhold their ID.

  27. #27 |  PogueMahone | 

    @23 – you’re right, however, as you’ll notice in the vid, some of these officers first state “you’re suspicious” which will give them a legal pretext to asking for I.D.

    Some of them have been schooled in the game, too.


  28. #28 |  John P. | 

    In all honesty this video demonstrates the exact reason why you go thru an attorney if you have a legitimate complaint.

    Let them do the talking and if they fell the cops are blowing it off or trying to intimidate you they can elevate it to the next step.

    By sending a private “demand letter”, to the police, the city and any other parties involved.

    And if that don;t work then a complaint filed in the appropriate court will.

  29. #29 |  picachu | 

    JimBob #24,

    In Houston they take you straight to jail if you don’t have an ID on you. It doesn’t really matter what the law says, still less the constitution. They do it. I’ve seen it and known someone it happened to.

  30. #30 |  Personanongrata | 

    Let them hate so long as they fear. ~ Lucius Accius

  31. #31 |  Whim | 

    The website with these and other police abuse videos is:

    When these former policemen led by Mr. Kamau target an area, pretty quickly the various police departments that have been engaged by the investigators quickly contact each other, to make sure that everyone on their staff exhibits model police behavior in respect to citizen requests for complaint forms.

    At least for a few days…..

  32. #32 |  JimBob | 

    @ #27

    I can’t help what cops do in violation of the law, and it doesn’t surprise me that Houston cops do that, despite the Texas stop-and-identify statute being shot down over 30 years ago. Further, I’d bet that the person you know wasn’t arrested on “failure to ID” charges, unless she/he was driving (under current Texas law, failure to ID charges only apply if they’ve already lawfully arrested you, and you refuse to identify yourself– title 8, section 38.02 of the penal code– but demands for a driver’s license during a traffic stop are different).

    Let me guess: was your friend booked on “public intoxication” or “disorderly conduct” charges? Because the cops generally don’t have to prove jack to have him/her found guilty. The mere fact that the cops arrested your friend acts as evidence enough that he/she was creating enough of a disturbance to warrant an arrest– or at least that’s what the cop will tell the judge. Doesn’t matter if that “disturbance” took the form of politely declining an officer’s request for ID. It’s a tactic that works surprisingly often.

    I’m not going to say that cops will always do the right thing– I don’t think anybody who regularly reads this blog thinks THAT. But in the cases shown in the video– where the interactions were video-recorded, apparently even from multiple angles– you can get the charges tossed.

    So, yeah. I guess I should amend my previous comment. Know your rights and calmly assert them– but record the SHIT out of the officers while you do so.

  33. #33 |  Jack Dempsey | 

    Albert Einstein said those who cannot be trusted with the truth in small matters cannot be trusted with the truth in large matters.

    It flat out does not matter if the police have probably cause, or reasonable suspicion, or anything. They will do what they do and you will take it, and you can’t do sh!t about it.

    As occasionally seen here, the mentality of those entrusted to “uphold the law” is: “Submit Citizen” or “Stop resisting motherfucker.”

  34. #34 |  Burgers Allday | 

    What struck me about it is how many of the cops went right to demanding ID. I’d guess that most people don’t understand their rights (i.e. that unless a cop has reasonable suspicion that you are engaged in criminal activity he has no right to legally demand your ID). But even if you know that a cop has no right to demand your ID, the only practical thing you can do once he’s asked for it – unless you are willing to risk arrest or detention in refusing to provide it – is disengage and leave.

    When the id asking is in or very near the police station, I imagine that police would say that reasonable suspicion is not required* because of heightened security concerns at a police station (which is often used as a “courthouse” and thus subject to more heightened security measures). To put it another way, I imagine that police could set up a policy requiring id of every regcit who comes into the station house (through the front door and not the sally port). At worst the asking for the id might be considered as a form of retaliation against 1A protected speech, if selectively applied only against ppl looking to file complaints.


    * they would also argue “in the alternative” that they had rs, but that is neither here nor there.

  35. #35 |  picachu | 

    JimBob, She stopped to ask directions on a friday morning when she was out looking for a job and for some reason the cop asked to see her ID. She didn’t get out of jail until Monday afternoon.

  36. #36 |  Dave | 

    In all seriousness, the proper way to file a complaint is through an attorney (as has been mentioned). And going in and essentially tipping them off that you are there to make their life difficult isn’t a wise choice.

    Having said that, the way so many of these officers responded was outright disgusting.

  37. #37 |  JimBob | 


    I’m not surprised. Cops don’t always follow the law. I apologize if it sounded like I was implying that your friend was publicly intoxicated or causing a public disturbance; that wasn’t my intention. I was trying to point out how utterly easy it is for cops to get away with using those as bullshit charges.

    Still, it doesn’t mean that you have a legal obligation to give them your ID. Yes, they can ignore the law. Doesn’t change the fact that you’re right. Not much comfort in a jail cell, but a cop’s lack of respect for the law doesn’t change what the law actually IS.

  38. #38 |  CrB | 

    I don’t suppose any of those shiny new Anti-bullying laws happen to deal with behavior like this from law enforcement.

  39. #39 |  Delta | 

    The fact that they’re so casually abusive and hyper-violent is truly terrifying.

  40. #40 |  plutosdad | 

    I suppose saying “I’ll answer your question when you answer my question” would get you tasered
    or “you haven’t answered my question either, are you on medication?”

  41. #41 |  plutosdad | 

    actually one more thing: i am in IT but have worked mostly for HR, Compensation, Staffing departments, etc. I usually didnt’ do things like handle forms, i did have to write some workflow code that handled them. I would never dream of reading someone’s form, or wanting to see what’s in it, or know what they want to write down. Trying any of that would get me fired. In fact, my first job was at a Fortune-100 company’s HRIS, and i had to sign a form saying I understand that if i looked at anyone’s information for any reason other than business purposes I will be fired.

  42. #42 |  CSD | 

    The guy in this video is clearly a trouble maker trying to harass the police with his need to file a written complaint and not just talk it out. I would assume that further research will show you that the departments featured in these videos have excellent public service records with zero or minimal written complaints ever filed against them.

  43. #43 |  SJE | 

    If another people do this at one PD, across several stations, they can show a systemic pattern of abuse that invokes federal civil rights law. They can then get a lawyer to represent them on contingency. The other day I met a lawyer who made some serious money suing for police abuses.

  44. #44 |  Jim | 

    @42 – I almost wet myself reading your apologia. Of course they’d have zero or minimal written complaints filed against them if THEY WON’T GIVE YOU the !@#$!ing FORMS!!!!!!!!!!

  45. #45 |  derfel cadarn | 

    Doesn’t anyone find it amazing that so many criminals wear police uniforms. Yes,we will take your complaint and the investigate ourselves. Sorry the officer was justified it this. BULLSHIT so deep you could drowned.

  46. #46 |  StrangeOne | 


    I think that comment was tongue-in-cheek.

  47. #47 |  Bergman | 

    I saw a graph a while back that compared police arrest statistics with non-police arrest statistics. It didn’t cover actual convictions, severity of sentence or how many were let off without an arrest and/or just a warning. It only showed arrests.

    On a number of arrests per 100,000 individuals basis, police have almost the same (within a percentage point or two) rate for being arrested for nearly every crime as non-police do. The only major exception to this is that police are three times more likely to be arrested for sexual assault than non-police are.

    Given how many times dubious police actions are ruled “without wrongdoing”, you just about have to assume that for every arrest that is reported, there are several officers who did something illegal and weren’t held responsible for it. Add to that the fact that police often see no charges filed even if they are arrested, and if convicted, usually get lighter sentences than non-police (one of the few situations where mandatory sentencing rules promote justice), it’s not hard to come to a conclusion that a higher percentage of police are criminals than among the general public.

    I’ve often wondered if the difference between a lifetime gangbanger and a lifetime cop is whether they graduated the academy and got hired before getting caught committing a felony.

  48. #48 |  John | has a lot of other videos, driving while black is one of them. But what this shows is that cops love to intimidate when one of their own is drawn into question. Not to say all PD depts are assholes, there were a few that gave the form up willingly and even provided instructions on what to do, but I would say the ratio was 1 out of 50 that gave them up without a being drilled and threatened.

  49. #49 |  TomPaine4 | 

    Bergman – that would be interesting to review. any chance of finding the source?

  50. #50 |  Helmut O' Hooligan | 

    I was just looking at the website for a department in the midwest that I consider to be among the best in the country. Indeed, it is a department I have tested with before and one of a tiny handful I might actually still consider working for. This department has their complaint forms on line. The website makes it clear that there IS a form that can be filled out by a citizen. The citizen can also choose to take the form to the police and fire commission rather than a police station. I believe something like this should be standard practice. The egregious behavior shown in these videos looks like witness intimidation and should not be tolerated by any enlightened jurisidiction.

  51. #51 |  Bill St. Clair | 

    “A job for two, who are now of job age. The police.” — Clockwork Orange

  52. #52 |  March 5 roundup | 

    […] “Can I get a form to file a police complaint?” No. No, you can’t [Balko] […]