If you are ever approached by a police officer in the streets, it can be quite helpful to understand their rights and responsibilities – and what you legally need to tell them.
A couple of myths that we can dispel upfront – you do not need to be at a police station to be interviewed and there is no such thing as ‘off the record’, therefore you should always be mindful that the police may use whatever you say to then decide whether to arrest or charge you.
A police officer has the right to ask for your name and address in many situations, including when they:
- find you committing an offence;
- ‘reasonably suspect’ that you have committed an offence;
- think you can help them investigate an indictable offence or domestic violence act;
- give you an order to stop making noise or being a nuisance;
- stop you while you are in control of a vehicle;
- trying to enforce another specific law; and
- where it is reasonable in the circumstances.
If you refuse to give your name and address when police have a right to ask for it, and you have no reasonable excuse for refusing. Therefore, you will be committing an offence and could be charged.
Power to arrest
A police officer has the right to arrest an adult without a warrant, for questioning the person about an offence, if they reasonably suspect the adult has committed, or is committing an offence.
Power to search
In most circumstances, police do not have an automatic right to search you and your personal property unless:
- you agree to the search
- they have a search warrant
- a law specifically allows them to conduct the search – this is quite limited to particular circumstances.
Where the police officer reasonably believes that the person is in possession of drugs, or that drugs are located on the premises or in the vehicle, they may have the power to conduct a search of a person, premises or a vehicle with or without a warrant, though this is in quite limited circumstances.
Power to monitor and gather evidence
Police officers have the authority to use covert evidence gathering techniques, allowing them to exercise powers such as using surveillance devices, conducting covert searches and undertaking controlled (undercover) operations. It is quite interesting to know that police can be authorised to enter a person’s home or business without their knowledge and install audio and/or video cameras or a tracking device in their vehicle.
Power to give directions
Police officers also have power to deal with out of control parties or events, including giving directions to leave and not re-enter a major event area if they suspect a person is affected by drugs. The people in question are required to adhere to these directions or could face arrest.
We have covered off on the rights of police, but what are your rights as a citizen? While you do not have to answer all of their questions, be mindful that refusing to cooperate could end you up in further trouble. Here are some of your rights when approached by police:
- You are allowed to politely ask the police why they want this information.
- The officers must give you their names, rank and station.
- If not in uniform, they must show you their identity cards or some other proof of identity.
If you would like to talk to someone experienced in the legal rights and responsibilities of police officers, get in touch with one of our team today.