Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to present results from a qualitative study exploring the complaints system within New South Wales Police Force in Australia. The stories shared illustrate the impact of the complaints system on officers currently serving in this force. The study reveals how the complaints system impacts on both the working conditions and workplace environment of police officers, as well as impacting on the professional relationships amongst each other. Design/methodology/approach – The study is qualitative in design, in which in-depth interviews were conducted with a sample of 14 rank and file police officers. The qualitative analysis draws upon a thematic approach and a direct reference to police officer comments and perspectives are illustrated and used to inform the framework of the discussion and implications for further research in this area. Findings – The findings yield three central themes – “police perceptions of accountability”; “the complaints tool – a question of intra institutional justice”; and “performance impact”. These are discussed in direct relation to what police officers revealed about their experiences and thoughts on the current complaints process in New South Wales. Practical implications – To review the complaints process in order to develop a more transparent process; to recognise the critiques of the complaints process, both by the general public and police officers, as valuable information to be used to inform improving the process; to consider restorative justice practices employed by other police forces as a means of finalising some complaint processes; to develop a more swift complaints process with more timely conclusions in order to minimise long-term issues such as sustained sick leave. Originality/value – This paper examines the link between accountability and performance, and the unintended consequences the complaints process has on police officers at work. This examination is conducted by drawing on current rank and file police officers lived experiences.