Police / Police complaints

How should the police treat us?

How should the police treat us? What are the standards of professional behaviour? Do the police have to investigate all crime?

This page is part of a series developed with Disability Rights UK (DRUK).

You can read a summary of these pages on DRUK’s website here.

Disclaimer: this article is for general information. It’s not intended to be used as legal advice. See our website for more information on how to get legal advice.

What are the Standards of Professional Behaviour?

In England, police officers are also expected to meet the Standards of Professional Behaviour. This covers how they should treat everyone.

There are 10 principles:

1. Honesty and Integrity

police officers should not say things that aren’t true on purpose. They should act honestly and correctly. For example, the police shouldn’t give false evidence about you.

2. Authority, Respect and Courtesy

Police officers should act with self-control. They should treat members of the public with respect and respect our rights. They should not abuse their power and use their authority to do things they shouldn’t.

The police shouldn’t swear at you, or act aggressively, for example if it takes you longer than others to follow instructions.

3. Equality and Diversity

The police should act fairly and treat everyone equally. They should not discriminate against people unlawfully. Read more about discrimination here.

4. Use of Force

The police should only use force that is

  • necessary: it has to be done in order to achieve a lawful aim
  • proportionate: they only use as much force as is needed to achieve that aim
  • reasonable in the circumstances: given the situation, the force that the police use is justifiable.

For example, the police handcuffing someone when it’s not needed could breach this standard. See our page on police using force for more details.

5. Orders and Instructions

Police should only give and follow orders and instructions that are lawful. This includes laws on non-discrimination.

6. Duties and Responsibilities

Police officers should carry out their duties and responsibilities as best they can. They should cooperate during investigations. If they are a witness, they should be professional and open.

7. Confidentiality

Police should treat your personal information with respect. They should only access it or share it if it’s part of their duty to do so. Read more about the rules on the police sharing your data.

8. Fitness for Duty

Police officers should make sure they are able to carry out their responsibilities when  duty.

9. Discreditable Conduct

Police shouldn’t act in a way that presents the police in a bad light or makes the public less confident in the police. This applies when they are both on and off duty. Police should report if they have been involved in criminal behaviour.

10. Challenging and Reporting Improper Conduct

Police officers should report, challenge and take action against their colleagues if their behaviour has fallen below these standards.

For more information, you can also see the College of Policing’s Code of Ethics.

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Do the police have to investigate all reports of crime?

No. In general, police do not have to investigate all reports of crime. Whether or not a crime needs to be investigated depends on several factors;

  1. How vulnerable the victim is (are they in danger)
  2. How serious the crime is
  3. How likely the police are to solve it
  4. Whether investigating it is the best use of resources.

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What happens once a crime is reported?

Once a crime is reported, the police will assess the information. Then, they will decide whether or not it can be investigated.

  • If they do not decide to investigate: the police should contact you and explain why.
  • If they do decide to investigate: an investigating officer will be assigned to you. They should answer questions about the investigation and keep you updated.

Once the police have completed their investigation, they pass the case to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS). The CPS then decide whether to charge the suspect.

The difference between the police and the CPS

  • The police: arrest and question people, gather evidence and take witness statements.
  • The CPS: charge and prosecute people, and decide if the evidence is good enough to go to court.

Read more about the CPS on their website.

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Serious violence: police duty to investigate

The police must investigate crimes involving serious violence. Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) protects individuals from torture and inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment. It’s brought into the UK with the Human Rights Act. It means the police must investigate if there are clear signs that torture or ill-treatment might have happened.

The police investigation must also be effective. It should start promptly, be adequate and involve the victim in the investigation.

The police could be violating Article 3 if they police do not carry out an effective investigation for crimes involving serious violence.

Failings which may be relevant include

  • not promptly interviewing a key witness
  • Not getting CCTV evidence
  • Not linking numerous complaints about the same person
  • Not carrying out house searches

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How should the police treat victims of crime?

The Victim’s Code

If you report a crime, you have rights under the Code of Practice for Victims of Crime in England and Wales (the Victim’s Code).

There are 12 rights, but they mostly relate to

1. Understanding and communication: The police must give you information that you can understand, and should understand you. This could mean getting an interpreter or translator.

2. Details of the crime:

  • These details should be recorded as soon as possible
  • You should get written confirmation of what you’ve said
  • You can make a victim personal statement to explain what happened to you.

3. Updates and information: The police should give you information when you report the crime, including about

  • Updates on the investigation and prosecution
  • The trial, the process, and your role as a witness
  • Outcomes of the case, and any appeals
  • The offender, if they are convicted (if you’re eligible)

4. Support: the police should give you information about victims services. They should refer you to other support services if needed

5. Money: the police should tell you about any compensation or expenses you’re entitled to.

6. Complain: you can complain if these rights aren’t met.

Enhanced rights

Enhanced rights are further supports for individuals who are vulnerable, or for victims of the most serious crimes.

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Complaining about the police and taking legal action

You have the right to complain about police behaviour that you’re unhappy with. For more information please see our pages on complaining about the police.

If you think the police broken the law by not doing what’s required of them, you can take the police to court. A court can require the police to take action or provide compensation for their failures.

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What are my rights on this?

Find out more about your rights and how the Human Rights Act protects them

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