For Families and Carers : Dealing with Situations Involving the Police

A young man chats to two police officersThis information is for anyone who may have come into contact with the police: what to expect and what you can do if you are unhappy with the way a situation was handled.

People with Down’s syndrome may come into contact with the police because they have been missing, because they have witnessed a suspected crime, they are accused of committing a crime, or due to a mental health crisis.

You should always be offered a record of police involvement with you or your family.  You may need this information if you want to speak to them again or if you want to complain about the way they dealt with your situation.

Complaints should be made as soon as possible after the situation you want to complain about.

What happens when someone goes missing?


If someone goes missing there are rules about timeframes for reporting it.  If it is a missing child, they should be reported missing straight away.

For adults and older children, you may face some resistance in reporting them missing.  Be ready to explain the circumstances, when someone went missing, their vulnerabilities and whether or not this is out of character.

The police records should include information about where someone was found and what they did or who they saw while they were missing.  As a parent or carer you are likely to want similar information.  To obtain this information you would need to make a freedom of information request to the police authority on behalf of your son or daughter.  There is normally a cost associated with this.  You would only receive information that relates to your son or daughter.

When to raise concerns

If you believe that the police are withholding information that could inform safety planning, you could consider making a complaint with the support of children or adult social care services.

How should the police deal with Vulnerable Witnesses?


There are clear procedures that must be followed if someone is considered to be a Vulnerable Witness – the procedures are referred to as Special Measures.  The guidance published by the Ministry of Justice is “Achieving Best Evidence in Criminal Proceedings: Guidance on interviewing victims and witnesses, and guidance on using special measures”.

When to raise concerns

If you believe that the police have not provided sufficient support (providing a suitable environment, communication approach, etc), then consider following the complaints process detailed at the end of this document.

What should happen if someone with Down’s syndrome is suspected of committing a crime?


If the police suspect that someone may be a ‘mentally disordered or mentally vulnerable’ adult’ (this includes any adult with a learning disability), they must make sure that an Appropriate Adult is available to safeguard their rights and welfare.   All children have a right to an Appropriate Adult.  Any person who is not connected to the police investigation can act as an Appropriate Adult.

When to raise concerns

The police should not ask someone to be interviewed or do anything for them (such as provide fingerprints, samples or photos) without an Appropriate Adult if they need one.  If the police do not provide an Appropriate Adult, any evidence they have obtained (without them) may not be admissible in court.  If a situation arises when someone has been interviewed as a suspect without an Appropriate Adult, you can support them to speak to a solicitor about challenging any evidence that is obtained in the absence of appropriate support.  If needed, you can act as their litigation friend.

How to Complain


Complaints in Person

If you want to complain in person, you can ask to speak to someone more senior than the person you want to complain about.  You can take someone with you, such as a family member, friend, solicitor or advocate.

You can also ask someone else to complain on your behalf, but you must give your consent in writing for them to do so.  Your Citizen’s Advice Bureau or your MP may support you in making a complaint.

Complaints in Writing

You may also want to complain in writing.  Police forces will have a complaints department that you can write to with your complaint.  Information about how to complain to your local police force is on their website.  Alternatively, the Independent Police Complaints Commission has an online form that you can use to complain to your police force.  You can also download the forms, print them, hand-deliver, post or email them.  This also allows you to keep a record of your complaint so that you can use it later if you do not feel that your complaint has been satisfactorily resolved. In some circumstances the police force must refer complaints to the Independent Complaints Commission,  for example, if someone says they were seriously assaulted by a police officer.  You can also complain to the Independent Police Complaints Commission.

Once you have made your complaint a decision will be made about the next steps.

What May Happen to Your Complaint

Your complaint may be resolved by giving you a written explanation of what happened or providing you with some information.  If this is not possible your complaint will need to be looked into.  You should be advised about the steps the police force will be taking in relation to your complaint.

If your complaint is going to be looked into, you will be contacted to make sure that the person investigating has all the information they need about your complaint.  You should have the opportunity to say what you would like to see happen as a result of your complaint.  You should also be told what is likely to happen as a result of your complaint and what steps will be taken to deal with your complaint.

Wherever possible local resolution will be used to deal with complaints; this may involve some investigation of your complaint.  In some circumstances complaints must be fully investigated.  Local resolution may include an explanation, information, apology, a meeting, changes in process or policy.

If your complaint is more serious or cannot be dealt with by local resolution, then a local investigation should be undertaken.  The investigation may only address certain areas – you will be given a written copy of these ‘terms of reference’.  You should be kept informed about the progress of any investigation as well as the outcome.   The letter telling you about the outcome of your complaint should include information about how to appeal about the decision made by the police force.

How to Appeal About a Complaint

In some circumstances you can complain to the police force or the Independent Police Complaints Commission.  The right to appeal may have time limits.  You should try to appeal as soon as possible after receiving the outcome of your complaint, but you may wish to seek advice about your appeal.  If this is the case you should write to the force informing them that you intend to appeal.

You can read information about how to make a complaint about the police on the Independent Police Complaints Commission website.  There is also an easy read guide – this would help get written consent if you need it: https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/strengthening-rights-for-people-with-learning-disabilities