Lets say that Bob has a problem with a high ranking member of the local government (Mayor, Police Chief, etc). After several protests of the local government and encounters/arrests by the Police, Bob starts to receive mysterious allegations of civil infractions and multiple tickets demanding money as retribution. Bob discovers a city ordinance "Annoyance by writing" by which the wording on the ordinance clearly falls under for these civil infractions trying to extort money from him. He goes to the Police to try and file a criminal complain but the Police refuse to file the complaint citing "government functions".

How can Bob file a criminal complaint when the Police refuse to file it?

Here is a video as a real world example of this situation; https://youtu.be/8uY8t4X_yqI?t=521

  • 1
    This really depends on the jurisdiction - England and Wales you can bring a private prosecution, which is a private lawsuit under criminal law, charging someone with the same thing that the police and the Crown Prosecution Service would charge and prosecute them with. You have to bear the brunt of that cost tho.
    – user4210
    Commented Mar 22, 2019 at 4:52
  • In Spain it is the same, but the perception that I have is that if the State does not press charges the private prosecution needs to be very convincing to win the case.
    – SJuan76
    Commented Mar 22, 2019 at 11:22
  • See this SE question and its answers for much related detail. Commented Mar 23, 2019 at 19:54

1 Answer 1


Can a citizen file criminal charges against the police if the department refuses to?

This part of the question is dependent on the location, some area will let citizens file complaints against police officers directly to the courts; others require it to be filed with the districts, or state's attorney's office.

It should be note that there is Prosecutorial discretion in determining which cases are taken up.

How to file a complaint Against the Police

Police departments take complaints on an officer in three different ways:

1: you can make a complaint online through the police departments website

2: A formal complaint can be filed by mail

3: A complaint can be filed in-person at the police department, during this process they will interview you about the issue and you are advised to bring a witness with you (lawyer, friend, or family member).

Once a complaint is filed in one of these three ways, the police departments internal affairs department opens an investigation into the matter to determine disciplinary measures. These complaints will stay on the officer's record permanently. Unfortunately, you will not be able to know the outcome of the internal investigation.

If you feel the police department where the complain is filed isn't being taken seriously then there's always the option of moving up the chain. A complaint can be made with the sheriff's office, state police, or with the state's attorney office.

Can you sue a police officer?

Bob can sue the police officer individually under Section 1983 of the Civil Rights Act of 1871

Should proactive legal action be taken?

For this hypothetical, the answer is that it shouldn't be the first step. These are tickets, if you disagree with a ticket you always have the option to fight it in court. If tickets continue to roll in even after the original tickets were resolved then more action would be necessary

  • 1
    As is indicated in hinshawlaw.com/newsroom-updates-319.html a local government or police dept cannot be sued under Sec 1983 unless it was a matter of "policy or custom” as defined in Monell v. New York City Dept. of Social Servs., 436 U.S. 658, 690-91 (1978) a Supreme Court case. In most cases a known, named officer must be sued directly. Commented Mar 23, 2019 at 19:51
  • 1
    The question is not filing a complaint or bringing a suit against the police. It is about filing a criminal charge when the police refuse to take the complaint. Commented Mar 23, 2019 at 22:44
  • 1
    @Digitalfire, you can't file a criminal charge, nobody can, you can file a complaint with the police department, and then the DOJ will decide if they want to pursue criminal charges. Commented Mar 23, 2019 at 22:51

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .