So the a cop has stopped you, nailed you for a $398 speeding ticket and to top it off called you a cheese head and you're not even from Wisconsin. Cheesehead, indeed. You want to complain, but you're wondering about the stories from south Florida when citizens were intimidated by supervisors when they tried to file complaints. What do you do?
1. Know what to complain about.
Don't complain about getting the ticket or the cop towing your car or confiscating your dope. You need to allege misconduct or illegal behavior: the cop called you a cheesehead, beat the crap out of you or asked for a bribe. That's misconduct.
2. Document the incident.
Write down what happened as soon as you can. Get the names and addresses of witnesses. If it's your word against the cop's, then you'll probably lose. Independent witnesses bolster your case. Oh yeah, pictures and videos are killer evidence.
3. Know where to complain.
Police departments have three general systems for gathering complaints. In Portland, we have an Independent Police Review that is part of City Auditor's Office, not the Police Department. This bureau takes all complaints against the police, does a primary investigation and refers complaints of misconduct to the Internal Affairs Division of the Portland Police Bureau. This model is becoming prevalent in larger cities such as San Francisco, Omaha and Denver. In my opinion, this is the best way out there for local governments to handle complaints against police officers. The second method is that all complaints are forwarded to the Internal Affairs Division. Apparently if you live in Florida, you may get some grief if you try to score a complaint form. Go to Internal Affairs directly. Don't let a uniform sergeant intimidate you. The third and weakest system is having a supervisor take the complaint. If you're faced with this, good luck. Some supervisors are honestly concerned about your complaint, but some just want to get you out the door. Try to talk to someone higher in the food chain, a lieutenant or the Chief, even if you have to wait until the next day. And if you're drunk or stoned, wait until you're straight to file that complaint. It'll be harder for them to blow you off.
4. Get help
As an ex-cop, I shudder to give this advice, but if you're being stonewalled, check out other agencies or organizations that might help: the ACLU is interested in cases with constitutional ramifications, many ethnic assistance groups may help you, and dare I say it, there are some groups that focus on promoting police accountability. In Portland, Cop Watch is the place to go.
5. Don't give up.
If you really think that you've been on the receiving end of misconduct, don't let a lower level police supervisor dissuade you. Keep plugging away and make sure that your complaint is accepted.
6. Be realistic.
If it's your word against the officer's, chances are not much will happen. But, complaints against police officers are like green stamps. If they collect enough of them, they get a big surprise in the end.