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What powers do the Police have?

There are laws in place about the powers the police have and how they can use them.  The police are allowed to approach you at any time.  It’s a good idea to find out why the police want to talk to you before you answer their questions and to always stay polite and respectful.

 

What if the police ask me for my name and address?

If the police ask for your name and address or to see some identification, generally you don’t have to tell them or show them anything. But you must give your name and address to a police officer if they think:

  • you have committed or are about to commit a crime; or
  • you may be able to help with an investigation into a crime.

The police can also ask for you name and address if your name and address is unknown to them. It’s a crime to give the police a fake or false name or address.

 Do the police have to tell me why they want my name?

The police must tell you why they want your name, including what they think you might have done, or why they are asking you questions.

If you think the police don’t have a good reason to ask for your details, or to search you, it is a good idea to ask for their name, rank, and place of duty. The police, by law, have to tell you this information. You should write this down so you don’t forget. Remember to be polite! 

Do I have to answer any other questions? 

Apart from giving the police your name and address in certain situations, you do not need to say anything else, even if you are arrested. The law says that a police officer must tell you that you don’t need to answer their questions, but that anything you do or say can be used later as evidence in court.

When can I be searched?

The police can stop and search you, your car or your house if they have a warrant. A warrant  means that police have already been given permission by a court to search you or your property. You should always ask to see a warrant before allowing a search.

Without a warrant, they can also search you if they think you have:

  • Something that is able to inflict damage and cause violence; or
  • Something that is stolen. 

The police can also search and seize anything they find if they think:

  • It’s necessary to prevent something that was used in a crime from being destroyed or hidden;
  • The circumstances are serious and urgent. 

How will I be searched?

There are two main types of searches, frisks and strip searches.

For all kinds of searches, if it is possible the police must:

  • have someone of the same sex do the search; and
  • not embarrass you (especially in public).

Frisk searches

A police officer can pat down the outside of your clothes to feel for guns, knives, drugs or other items. The police may also check your outer clothes (while you wear them) and any pockets for the items listed above. Frisk searches can be done in public.

Strip searches

In general, strip searches can only be done if police take you back to the police station and think that removing your clothes can provide them with evidence of a crime.

 

These searches have to be approved by a more senior police officer like a superintendent and they can’t be done on persons under 10 years of age.

 

If you are between the ages of 10 to 18, a strip search may only be conducted if:

 

  • you have been arrested and charged by Police, or ordered by a court; and
  • the search is conducted in front of a parent, guardian or person capable of representing your interests.
A police officer can ask you to remove most or all of your clothes (in private).

Strip searches won’t involve any searching of your intimate areas like your genitals, anus or mouth.

Can a police officer confiscate my things? 

A police officer can confiscate (take and keep) anything that belongs to you if:

  • It’s a firearm (gun) or ammunition without a license;
  • The police officer thinks  it can be used to prove someone committed a crime;
  • The police officer thinks it is stolen;
  • It is necessary to prevent the evidence from being destroyed or hidden;
  • The situation is serious and urgent.

When can I be arrested? 

A police officer can arrest you if they have a warrant (where they’ve already been to court to ask if it’s okay to arrest you) or if they think:

  • You have committed or are committing a crime;
  • It’s necessary to make sure you appear before a court;
  • You might be involved in committing another crime;
  • You might destroy or hide evidence related to the crime;
  • It is necessary so that someone required to give evidence, isn’t harassed or interfered with;
  • It’s necessary to prevent you or someone else from lying or making up evidence about an offence;
  • It’s necessary for your safety or welfare.
If you’re under 10 years of age, an officer can only arrest you if they think:

When police don’t have a warrant (meaning they haven’t been to court to ask if it’s okay to arrest you) they also need to be satisfied that the arrest is needed to stop you from continuing what you’re doing, or committing the crime again, or that it’s needed to protect life or property.

The police must tell you why you have been arrested and if they haven’t told you why you have been arrested, it is a good idea to ask. 

Can a police officer use force to arrest me?

A police officer can only use force if you resist arrest. This means that if you cooperate the police can’t use force, but the more you resist arrest the more force police can use.

If you are under 10 years of age, the police must do the minimum necessary to stop the conduct for which you are arrested for. The officer must also take you to a parent or guardian. 

When can I be interviewed?

You can be interviewed if the police believe that you have committed a crime, may be partly involved in a crime or are holding a child under restraint. An officer may also interview you if they believe it is necessary to avoid the risk of death or injury or serious damage to property.

Otherwise, you cannot be forced to attend an interview unless you are under arrest.  If the police ask you to go to the station with them, you should ask if you are under arrest.  If you are not, you are free to go.

Before the police interview you, they must tell you that you can call a friend or family member. A support person (like a parent or carer) must be present during the interview unless the support person does not come to the police station within 2 hours. You can also call a lawyer. There isn’t a maximum time the police can hold you at a police station.

Do I have to answer the questions in an interview?

No -- you have the right to remain silent. This means you do not have to say anything in an interview except to confirm your name and address.

What if I am Aboriginal? 

If you are Aboriginal you should tell the police immediately. The police must call the Australian Capital Territory Aboriginal Legal Service after you give them identification and before they question you. The Australian Capital Territory Aboriginal legal service can be contacted on (2) 6249 8488.

Can police ask you to ‘move on’? 

In some situations the police can ask you to leave a certain area for up to 6 hours. This is called being told to ‘move on.’  You can be told to move on from a particular area by the police if they have a reason to think you are doing, or are likely to do something violent.

These police powers do not apply to you if you are protesting at a workplace, or demonstrating or protesting a particular issue.

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Page last updated 31 August 2012. 

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