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Need to File a Complaint Against Law Enforcement? Here’s How.

Here's what to do if you want to report an interaction with a police officer — and you can do it anonymously.

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(Tretra Images)

Following the deaths by police of George Floyd and Rayshard Brooks, the City of Atlanta sought ways to rebuild trust in local law enforcement. After establishing and consulting with a use of force advisory council, former Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms  launched two initiatives to track interactions between police and citizens. Despite the city’s best efforts, for residents looking for a way to speak out or file complaints against law enforcement, the process can be confusing and frustrating.

For example, under the FAQ tab on the Georgia Bureau of Investigation website there are answers to common queries, including how to file a missing person report, find autopsy results, or access crime data for a school project. What is not clearly answered is how a citizen can file a complaint against a member of the bureau. 

That same ambiguity carries over to the Atlanta Police Department’s Office of Professional Standards webpage, which is easier to navigate, but still harder than it should be to find all the pertinent information. The good news is the city has an office in place to clear up the gray area.

“The only way we can correct, or address police misconduct is when we are made aware by citizens, regardless of your social class,” said Samuel Lee Reid II, executive director for the Atlanta Citizen Review Board , an organization commissioned by the city to investigate complaints against APD and the Atlanta Department of Corrections.

Reid helps us answer your questions about how to file a complaint against an officer and what to expect.

Why file a complaint against a member of law enforcement?

Daily interactions between citizens and law enforcement can result in uncomfortable, and at times unlawful, situations. When that happens people have the right to file what is called a citizen complaint with either the ACRB or APD.

 “I would tell that citizen, as a resident of the community, any experience that you have that causes you concern you should speak on it,” said Reid. “It will always matter.”

Who can file a complaint against a member of law enforcement?

Any citizen can file a complaint against APD, GBI, Georgia State Patrol or individual law enforcement officers.

How do I file a complaint?

If you want to file directly with APD, you can fill out a written complaint with the Office of Professional Standards. Complaints can also be filed online via the APD website and in-person at a local precinct. 

Can I file a complaint anonymously?

Yes, you can. The only caveat is that cases filed anonymously can prove more challenging for investigators. As long as you can provide as much detail as you’re comfortable giving, they will work to review your case. If you want to take the anonymous route, your first step is to call an investigator with the ACRB office at 404-865-8622.

How many times can you file complaints against members of law enforcement?

According to the Office of Professional Standards, there is no limit to the number of times a citizen can file a complaint.

How long should I expect to wait for an update from my local precinct?

The ACRB advises that you have 180 days from the day of the incident to file a complaint. The process begins with the complaint and then moves into the investigation stage. Be patient; it can take anywhere from weeks to months, depending on the department. Citizens can immediately request the name, badge number, and contact information of the investigator on their case.

Where else can you go if you feel APD isn’t taking the complaint seriously?

You may feel that your complaint filed with APD is going nowhere, in which case your next stop should be the ACRB. Plus, other local organizations such as Atlanta Legal Aid  and the Georgia Justice Project can help you navigate the process.To file a complaint via ACRB, fill out an online form here.

What happens if I don’t want to file anonymously? Am I protected?

When a citizen files a complaint, it’s considered public information. Details of complaints in open investigative status are not made public until after the case is closed. It can be released to the public because somebody can make an open records request. Also, to increase transparency within the APD, complaint results are listed online.

ACRB’s ordinance requires that they notify APD when a complaint is received. However, the investigators do not notify APD about the receipt of the complaint until after they’ve received the citizen’s full statement. “We want to ensure citizens are comfortable in making their complaints and providing their statements to us,” said Reid.

What if I still feel that an officer is retaliating against me for speaking out?

If you believe an officer or officers are retaliating against you for filing a complaint, reach out to the ACRB office immediately. Investigators will review the details and add the information to your current investigation, which counts as another potential charge against the officer.

How will I know the results of the investigation?

If you file directly with APD, both officers and complainants are sent notice, in writing, of the outcome. If you file anonymously with ACRB, the outcome of your complaint will be posted on its  website under the Complaints Reviewed tab.