Hidden camera footage of police officers hindering citizens who try to file complaints

This video is a montage of hidden camera footage of police officers across America -- in unspecified jurisdictions -- intimidating or otherwise hindering someone who has asked for a complaint form. They ask for ID, they demand details, they make veiled threats, they make explicit threats. This is exactly what happened to me the two times I tried to file a complaint for police misconduct (once in Toronto, once in San Francisco).

Wanna File a Police Complaint (Arrested for Trying) (via Reddit)


  1. We don’t have this problem here! 

    (Police department was closed last year, fire this year!)
    (Its still quite shocking though, but not unexpected sadly..)

  2. Alright, I’ll bite.  Yes: there is most assuredly some intimidation going on here.  That’s not right.

    But the process seems to be constant: No, you don’t just get a form to take with you.  You have to stand up and accuse the wrongdoer.  (I can easily imagine a disgruntled teen getting his first traffic ticket copying a hundred such forms and giving to his friends to defame any and all cops in the local precinct.)

    …then again: all those forms would just end up in the circular file, now, wouldn’t they?

    Some of those officers are acting like total assholes.  Agreed.  But the Boys (and Girls) In Blue are a gang.  They are supposed to be YOUR gang, oh worthy taxpayer, but sometimes…they are indeed an organization unto themselves.

    This can’t be a surprise to anyone here.

    Genuinely Bad cops are a shame to their profession.  They should be weeded out.  And it takes bravery by the abused to step up and point the finger (and yes: wear a wire -so to speak- if ever you can)…because once someone gets in far enough to take the badge; it is as to removing a tick you suspect has got Lyme disease: neither easy nor pleasant.

    But if enough fingers point at the same jerk-off: sometimes, they get fired.

    And that is as it should be.  Still:  even with a flawed and complacent local police force: do you really believe your municipality would be better off…without them?

    If all public safety workers went on strike for one month in your area, and every man, woman and school age child within 500 miles knew about it: would you lose any sleep over it?

    1. “No, you don’t just get a form to take with you.  You have to stand up and accuse the wrongdoer.”

      Um… I’m not making an accusation to a guy who won’t give me a form to fill out and is subtly or not so subtly threatening me. Complaints need to go to the appropriate people and some random confrontational cop in uniform is probably not an internal affairs officer. Most of these cops look like they’re the sergeant working the front desk. He’s probably buddies with whomever you’re going to make a complaint against.

      Forms can be investigated. If some teenager copies the form and gives it to his friends, it will be apparent pretty quickly if the forms are falsified or not when the investigating officer makes some phone calls and finds out they’re wrong numbers. And if people are stupid enough to put their own contact information on a falsified document to the police, they’ll get in trouble for it. What’s worse – the chance for teenagers pranking cops or the chance that a grievous abuse of authority on the part of a cop goes unreported because the citizen is intimidated and refused a form?

      1. What’s worse – the chance for teenagers pranking cops or the chance that a grievous abuse of authority on the part of a cop goes unreported because the citizen is intimidated and refused a form?


        If you truly were a victim of police abuse, do you really think you’re going to tell the first cop sitting at the desk about the incident? What are the chances that cop is with internal affairs? What are the chances that cop is buddies with the exact same cop who abused you, and is going to do his/her best to shuffle this away? Not rocket science here. Any system for reporting police abuse needs to have the option of protecting the complaintant from the very cops who abused him or her. If that produces false positives so be it. That’s for internal affairs to sort out. I mean, if cops themselves were capable of dealing with complaints against themselves, then we wouldn’t have internal affairs at all, would we?

      1. And if left unchecked in any meaningful way, they will keep pushing.
        And eventually someone will end up in a coma or dead, and even then some of them just get a slap on the wrist and sent along.

    2.  “sometimes, they get fired.”


      Tony Bologna still had a job last I checked.
      The police union response was to issue an open threat to sue Occupy protestors who might hurt officers.  Officers surrounding the attacks Bologna made said nothing.  The spokesweasal for NYPD LIED TO OUR FACES about ninja men who ninja vanished leaving the women exposed.

      John Pike still has a job.
      Despite being the cause of a lawsuit for using racial slurs and antigay statements against another officer before his use of pepper spray.

      At some point we need to remind them they are police, and not military contractors. 
      They violate the laws, and then you have to face the blue wall closing ranks to protect the most vile acts because the person committing them is a brother officer.  Them having each others backs is more important than the law.  Them covering up violating peoples rights, and beating people to death is all part of the job for them. 
      Maybe it is time to remind them that protecting someone just because they also wear a badge is no excuse.  They are supposed to uphold the law, not give one of their own a pass at facing that same law.
      People used to respect the police, there is a reason for public sentiment shifting away from that.

      Not all cops are bad, but not speaking up makes you just as vile.

    3. One bad cop protected by 4 loyal cop friends equals 5 bad cops. That’s five people with an exploitable flaw. Five people who can now no longer be trusted to carry out the rule of law because they do not respect the rights of the citizens they’re supposed to serve.

      You may not be able to see this but that is how the law should work.

    4.  Uhhhh WRONG. You are NOT required to make the complaint to the actual officer. Rape victims don’t need to go over their assualters house.. You have the right to face your accuser in COURT. This whole video is police doing their jobs badly. Stop making excuses for police corruption and maybe we will have less of it.

      1. Right. Nice straw man, though.

        The original comment was “You have to stand up and accuse the wrongdoer.”

        Nowhere in those words is it obviously implied that you have to accuse the wrongdoer to the wrongdoer’s face. Rather, you simply have to stand up and accuse the wrongdoer to someone with the power to censure them… as you deftly recognize.

  3. I would assume that any person demanding I hand over my identification and standing within a few inches of my face, telling me not to leave or they’ll tie me up would be handily arrested for harassment and attempted mugging. ….

  4. I think its inherently stupid to let a goverment body like the police handle their own complaints. I just checked out the procedure here in sweden and it seems like there is a seperate organisation called the Justitieombudsmännen (JO) and they have a simple webbform for complaints against public officials.

      1. If you dont like what America has become, DONT LEAVE IT, CHANGE IT! That is our DUTY to change what is wrong, to stand up to abuse of it’s citizens by the authority.

         But, by your view, if we lose all our rights and property is stolen,  if our founding documents get crapped on, we should abandon our country to our enemies? 

  5. Next time in San Francisco, yes, you can always call the relevant station and try to find a decent lieutenant on duty, or you might even get somewhere with the Police Legal Division or Internal Affairs, who knows — but if that doesn’t work there are avenues other than dealing with SFPD itself:

    – If you want to report what an officer did wrong, contact the civilian-run Office of Citizen Complaints (OCC). Form and instructions at http://www.sfgov3.org/index.aspx?page=434 . If you’re lucky the misbehaving officer will get asked some questions if not exactly perhaps disciplined unless harm was very seriously and publicly done to the sort of middle-class person who regularly counts as a real full-sized presumptively innocent citizen. Also if some future criminal defendant happens to be similarly mistreated, he/she may benefit from finding your contact information by means of a Pitchess defense motion. This really does sometimes happen on occasion. I did once know someone who got to testify about a prior unjust jacking-up in a way that helped a subsequent victim of similar.

    – If you want to seek compensation for wrongful damage, injury or impoundment by a misbehaving city employee, including a police officer — well, if it’s a dog or a car, first you try to recover your beast or vehicle through a police hearing process in which, unfortunately, police officers conduct the hearings. (Yeah, travesty of procedural due process, yackety yak, tried complaining several years ago, yep. Try it again if you like, and good luck to you.) For dogs, go to Animal Control, for cars, go to the far left end of the hall on the first floor of 850 Bryant St. but better check the hours first. If something was taken from you during an arrest, that’s a whole nother thing and the Public Defender’s Office has a form for the court process. But if all of that fails, or there just doesn’t seem to be a process for your problem, file a claim with the Controller’s Office. Go to http://www.sfcontroller.org/ and look for “Claim Form.” Usually with San Francisco or other govt entities in California, you need to file the claim form within 6 months of the loss (see Cal. Govt. Code Sec. 911.2 via http://leginfo.ca.gov). If the written claim is denied or gets no response after 45 days, you can go to court. If the claim doesn’t seem worth a big fuss, consider Small Claims Court, regarding which see http://www.courts.ca.gov/selfhelp-smallclaims.htm . All California counties have Small Claims Court advisors available to the public.

    The above is not legal advice, and your mileage may vary. But at least I’m pretty sure nobody in OCC or the Controller’s Office will threaten you for complaining.

    1. Where is the queue to complaing about the police getting the door open for private security contractors to harrass and threaten to deport you over an iThingy?

      1.  Try the Human Rights Commission at http://www.sf-hrc.org/ . One thing about San Francisco: there’s always somewhere to take your complaint. (The original “Mau-Mauing The Flak Catchers” essay was written here. A very long time ago.)

        Guy I knew twenty years ago decided not to go to law school when he realized that in San Francisco it was harder to get someone a shelter bed than a lawyer. He became an organizer. Doubt he’s regretted the decision.

  6. I’m retired from a universally-hated U.S. TLA.  Lots of people complained about us.  People wrote editorials and books and gave speeches on CSPAN complaining about us.  We were used to it, so we learned to handle it.

    We had a generic complaint form.  The form number was “911”.  We couldn’t be accused of not having a sense of humor.  :-)

    There were far more efficient ways to handle problems.  For example, talking to a supervisor could get any employee decision immediately reversed if such was appropriate.  We also had an entire department of folks whose job was to sympathetically listen to your problem if you called the toll-free number that we tended to plaster all over everything.

    However, if someone made a cold contact with us by walking into an office or if they insisted that, for whatever reason, they just wanted to put it all in writing, then we just handed them the form.  It was no big deal.

    I have seen the occasional supervisor who was under performance pressures get a little paranoid and want to know if the complaint was about one of their people but that was an exception.  We never asked for ID or insisted on a dialog if someone just flatly said “Give me a form to make a complaint.”  The kind of roadblocks thrown up in this video were ridiculous and, frankly, counterproductive.

    Yes, counterproductive.  Think about the possible outcomes if you just hand them the form without any drama.

    They walk out the door, everybody in line moves up, and the matter is done for now.

    Later, perhaps the person cools down and the form doesn’t get turned in.  The matter is done.

    Perhaps the person does fill out the form and send it in.  The problem actually gets some attention.  If the complaint was unwarranted (and most of them were), then the frontline employee winds up with an attaboy for doing their job, even if it was unpleasant for all involved.  The person who made the complaint gets a polite explanation of why their complaint was unwarranted along with a pamphlet outlining their rights to appeal the decision, both through the agency and the courts.

    If the frontline person made a mistake or even did something deliberately over the line, it gets corrected and some sort of discipline may be invoked.  The complainant is contacted by the supervisor, apologized to, and the problem gets re-negotiated to a solution (usually in a three-way meeting with the complainant, the employee, and the supervisor all involved.)  In rare cases, if the supervisor refuses to cooperate and our actions were causing ongoing damage to the customer, a direct order can be issued by the investigating office to overrule the supervisor.  (This is rare.  It creates adversarial relationships where they need not exist and hurts morale.  We really tried to talk this stuff out before it got out of hand.)

    Notice that in NONE of these alternatives do our employees wind up on local or national TV investigative journalism sting shows looking like massive dicks.

    Wins all around.

    Why on earth do the police departments shown in these vids not understand this?

    To any LEOs reading this: Just hand ’em the form and send them on their way.  You’ll probably never hear about it again, anyway.  There’s no need to be so ridiculously defensive.

      1. Lessee if I’ve got this straight.

        Somebody goes to a govt agency, asks for a form to make a complaint, gets harrassment, threats, etc.  That’s bad.

        I propose that if somebody goes to a govt agency and asks for a form to make a complaint, just give ’em the form.  And that’s derided as “the bureaucrat’s shield”.

        IOW, there’s no solution to the problems shown in the video.

        I reject that notion but, just out of curiosity, what’s your solution?  Give out the form, don’t give out the form, or some third state of assistance that I can’t really imagine at the moment?

        Or have I completely misunderstood and your use of the phrase “the bureaucrat’s shield” was not derisive but, instead, positive?

        I’m confused.  Help me out here.

  7. common guys, why don’t you leave them alone, why you cannot understand that they are human as well and not robots.

    P.S.: take a closer look and see that its from 2007

    1.  That’s exactly the problem. They’re human beings, prone to the same petty, selfish, short-tempered issues as the rest of us, only they’re entrusted with protecting the public and are given legal authority to use force to enforce the law up to the use of deadly force when appropriate. This means that they should be held to a higher standard than regular citizens. This means that they don’t get to abuse their authority in order to suppress complaints about the abuse of their authority.

  8. I’m glad this video is getting out but it’s unfortunate the original authors were not credited.   This snippet comes from a longer piece  called “The Largest Street Gang In America”, which can be found here (skip to about 29:00 to get to the segment on filing complaints).  

    Even with that video, some of the content comes from  policeabuse.tv,  which documents all sorts of police misconduct.   

    Any of the videos on those sites will almost certainly get your blood boiling.

  9. Happened to me in Marina Del Rey, California a few years back and I had been a resident for five years at the time. I was shocked by the entire incident and to this very day believe that this particular deputy sheriff was jacked up on speed because of his huge pupils and frantic behavior. I was six blocks from home, after midnight on a weekday so not many cars or people around. He pulls me for a broken tail light as it turned out was indeed working and was extremely rude, even hostile and aggressive. I t was scary because it was just the two of us and I  felt very threatened and unsafe and for the life of me could not understand his behavior or why this was happening to me. I am a petite woman in her forties with no record, even a parking ticket, a perfect driving record and have never even had a drink in my life, much less anything else, but it was obvious to me that this guy was on drugs himself because he was abnormally frantic and fixated on finding drugs that did not exist either on my person or in my car. First he jerked me out of my car, then he proceeded to search my person, found nothing, then spun me around, grabbed my wrist and pushed my sleeve of my arm up. I ask him what he was doing and he said he was looking for track marks on my arm. I was shocked and insulted and at that point informed him that he was dealing with a person that didn’t even drink much less do drugs. He then sat me down on the curb and told me not to move as he then proceeded to search my car in such a way that he tossed stuff everywhere. On the seats, floor boards, top of the car as well as throwing my maps in the street.  He was angry from the moment he approached me, but seemed even angrier that he found nothing. Almost as if he were looking for a fix himself. He never ask me anything just barked orders at me and physically jerked me around some. Kept me detained on the sidewalk for over an hour.  Never ask to search me or my car and again seemed pissed that he couldn’t get me on anything. He left me standing alone in the street with my car cleaning up the mess he made and still shaking from the fear of what this man might have done to me with no one around. You see the drug accusation was very out of place. I work out and have always been very health conscience and look much younger than my age and have an eye for fashion. Simply is nothing about me that says druggie and oddly enough he was the only person to ever try to degrade me with such an insult. After I got my things back in my car I went straight to the Marina Del Rey sheriffs department and requested to file a complaint and all I got was stone walled. The one thing that I did manage to find out about the sheriffs deputy that had practically assaulted me was that he had just recently been transferred from the Compton Division. I guess someone had told him to be on the look out for petite, female, middle-aged gang bangers with a heck of a fashion sense in the Marina. I was told that I would have to see the supervisor in order to fill out a complaint, after I was given the third degree about the entire incident in a rude fashion of course and I did go back several times and was always told he was not there. I was never rude nor argumentative throughout, but no matter how hard I tried they refused repeatedly to give me a complaint form to fill out. Only time anything like that has ever happened to me, but it has made me look at law enforcement differently for the rest of my life. I learned that just because someone is in uniform and wears a badge does not necessarily make him the good guy.

      1.  If she had refused the search, as was her legal right, she might have sat in a jail cell with a broken nose that evening.  That cop didn’t sound very stable.

  10. And sometimes those who have survived police abuse, and sometimes those who make complaints about police abuse, get shot and killed. Remember Duanna Johnson. And sometimes people ‘only’ get added to watchlists, get harassed, etc.

  11. This all seems pretty horrible, but I couldn’t watch it for more than about 20 seconds. When dealing with poor quality footage to begin with, why go out of your way to make the experience of watching even worse? Why that horrid ear-grating static burst between each segment? Why subtitles that are impossible to read?

    First, make the window of footage smaller. It’s low quality in the first place, it will actually be clearer if you make it small. Then you have room to put subtitles in your new nice space below the footage. For God’s sake use a font and color that people in the industry use (Avatar not included). They use it for a reason, because it’s legible. And then get rid of that God-awful burst of static.

  12. I saw this yesterday and it had my blood boiling. It blew my mind even further when the officers starting asking for I.D. and approaching the situation as an arrest or inquiry. Aren’t we, as citizens, more than entitled to an inquiry of our own?

    After I watched this and was on my way home, I saw an NYPD officer standing on the corner with his straight baton out and in hand. The only people around were commuters making their way through or out of Manhattan. Why the baton? It was clear he wasn’t just fiddling with it to pass the time, twirling it around like it was a toy. He had it firmly in his hand and resting just above his knee. I don’t know about you, but to me, he was looking for a reason to raise it in force. I’ve never met a cop whose first agenda wasn’t to intimidate or establish authority, including the three in my family. Cops need to be told, through our voice and protest, that they are not a military force but rather a force authorized by the citizenry to carry out the order of law, and by no means to interpret it for themselves. 

    1. Bloomberg believes the NYPD is his private army.  There’s no way in hell you’ll get any meaningful changes in the police department so long as he’s mayor. 

      1. The NYPD scares me. They have combat aircraft, a small navy, an in-house CIA, and officers posted all over the world, paid for by the US Department of State.

      1. How many people got beat to death the first time they heard that?

        Scary how close we get sometimes to various dystopian fictions.

  13. It’s not just complaint forms they protect themselves against….

    Twice I have gone to the police station directly to report a crime (different districts) and twice they refused to file a police report on the crime until I had argued with them for at least 30 minutes.
    One of the crimes I was finally able to get the report filed because I convinced them that the credit card company required it.  So, they put misleading and even false info on the report and DID NOT put the actual details (enough to make it a felony rather than a misdemeanor), gave me the required copy, and then refused to follow up.  I assume, based on the fact no one could even find the paperwork whenever I called back about it, that the other copies went straight to the circular file.  I had names, addresses, even a photocopy of the driver’s license of the person who picked up the $600 cash at Western Union (W.U.’s requirement).  The police wouldn’t take any of it it, and actually laughed in my face that I thought they would want it.

    The other crime involved a stolen car.  The story is a lot longer and more complicated, and involves significant breaches of the law by the police officers involved.

    I went to the police station with those two because of my experiences with officers out in the field, which tells you all you need to know about how professional those experiences were.

    Even the officers I know as friendly acquaintances, every one of them regularly breaks the law in some way.  They’re perfectly nice people to have a conversation with when they’re out of uniform, but they really do think the rules don’t apply to them.

  14. I am proud of my home county. They have a centralized source of complaint forms for all county services. (Police are under the county here.) http://www3.montgomerycountymd.gov/311/Home.aspx . They also have them out on the counter in our local station next to their other standard forms. This is not saying that the police are better than elsewhere, of course, just that you can get the form easily enough.

  15. Without a form there is no record. You could say something and they could say you said something else. Written proof is something completely different than verbal proof. I would not want to say anything that might have legal ramifications, I would certainly want my words clearly written in this case. And a copy for me.

  16. For those that can afford it (and I know many can’t, especially those who are often targeted and harassed by Police regularly) use a lawyer to file a complaint with the police. In larger cities there may be a legal aid service that will help even the indigent with this.

    1. Having had a pretty shitty experience with a free legal aid service that was too scared to take on my criminal landlord, I am doubtful that such an organization would be much help against the police. I hope I’m wrong.

  17. I will say this: FILE THE COMPLAINT NO MATTER WHAT. Cops are afraid of them in the long run, enough of those, and it can make their career a nightmare. It won’t get them fired, but any and all promotions or shifts in position, payroll, or schedule can be influenced by that. On to of it it put them under scrutiny for cases.  Also, most cops that are assholes to you, tend to be shoeless to their co-workers, and if they do make an enemy ( and yes, they’re job is HIGHLY politicized) they find it to exploit and cause havoc.

    And if by chance, they are investigated, those are thing that will brought into court and use against them by any half-decent lawyer.

    So complain, do what  you gotta do, but get it on paper, in the long run it can lead to these bullshit “peace officers’ going the way of the dodo.

    1. Making complaints, formal or otherwise, makes us vulnerable to retaliation: harassment, false arrest, watchlisting, and in some cases murder. I brought up the fate of Duanna Johnson above. I would not suggest it unless you are rich, white, male, cis, and straight, for starters…

  18. I have had dealings with a police officer who used to frequently regale us with his macho tales about how fun it was to start “turf wars” between teenage pot dealers by telling them “such and such grassed you up” whenever they had occasion to search them, and has a bizarre obsession with “outing” crossdressers.

  19. Are they all just nosy busy bodies and want to know everything? There is no protection against abuse when they all protect each other. There is NO SAFETY

  20. And folks still question whether tazers and pepper spray (i.e. non-lethal methods to force compliance) are easily overused.  Something needs to be done.

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