There are laws about what powers police have and how they can use them. The police are allowed to approach you and talk to 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.
If the police ask you 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 reasonably believe you’ve committed a crime
- If they reasonably believe you’re about to break the law
- If they reasonably believe you may be able to help with an investigation into a crime
- If they reasonably believe you’re carrying illegal weapons like knives, firearms or anything changed so it could be used as a weapon (like a bat, hammer or axe)
- If they reasonably believe you have committed graffiti or you’re carrying something on you that could be used to do graffiti
- Stopped for a breath test
- Pulled over while driving
- In a hotel or somewhere that sells alcohol
It’s against the law to refuse to give your name and address, or to give them a fake or false name or address.
The police have to tell you why they want your name including what they think you or someone else they’re investigating might have done.
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 comply with their instructions anyway and make a complaint later.
Remember 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!
Apart from giving the police your name and address in the situations above, you don’t need to say anything else, even if you are arrested. The 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.
The police can stop and search you, your car or your house if they have a warrant (where they’ve already been to court to ask if it’s okay). Without a warrant, they can also search you if they think you have:
- Illegal drugs;
- Weapons, like guns or knives;
- Something to inhale an illegal drug with (like a bong)
In some cases, the police can also search your car if they believe the search will help them find evidence of a crime.
There are two main types of searches, frisks and strip searches.
If a police officer believes you are hiding a weapon, they can ask you to remove any item of outer clothing and can run their hands down and pass a metal detector over that outer clothing.
It does not involve any searching of inner clothing. Frisk searches can be done in public, and, when possible, it should be done by a police officer who is of the same sex as the person being searched.
A police officer can also ask you to empty your pockets or bag.
Generally, the police can’t perform a strip search on you if you’re under 18 unless you give them permission or they go to the Children’s Court and get permission to do so.
There are different rules that apply when the police are searching for weapons. If a police officer still believes that you might be carrying a weapon after searching your outer clothing, the police can strip search you. But if they do so, it has to be by someone that is the same sex as you and a parent or guardian must be present.
The police should always protect your privacy during a strip search.
If you’re under 18, the police can take and keep any alcohol you have on you. A police officer may also confiscate anything that belongs to you if:
- They think it’s a weapon
- They have a warrant
- You’re carrying an illegal drug
In some situations the police can ask you to leave a certain area for up to 24 hours. This is called being told to ‘move on’. You can be told to move on by the police if they have a reason to think you are:
- Disturbing or likely to disturb the peace
- Acting in a way that may be dangerous to public safety
- Behaving in a way that is likely to cause injury or damage to property or people.
These police powers do not apply if you are protesting at a workplace, or demonstrating or protesting a particular issue.
A police officer can arrest you if they have a warrant (where the police have already been to court to ask if it’s okay to arrest you) or if they think:
- You’ve committed or are committing a crime
- It’s necessary to make sure that you appear before a court
The police must tell you why you’ve been arrested and if they haven’t told you why you’ve been arrested, it is a good idea to ask.
A police officer can use as much force as they need to arrest you or stop you escaping, but no more. 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 think you’re not being treated fairly, it’s best to cooperate and then you can make a complaint about it afterwards.
For more information about making a complaint to police, please see our page on complaints to police.
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 begin to interview you, they must tell you that you can call a friend or family member and a lawyer.
The police must tell you why they’re interviewing you and give their name, rank and place of duty if you ask. A parent or carer must be present during the interview (or someone independent from the police) and you have to have been allowed to talk to them beforehand in private.
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.
If you are indigenous, then it’s important you let the police know this. The police have certain guidelines they should follow if they have dealing with an indigenous person.
This includes having to tell the Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service (VALS) and an Aboriginal Community Justice Panel (ABJP) if they have arrested you.
VALS will speak with you and offer you support and advice. ABJP will ensure that you are treated properly when dealing with police and the courts. You can contact VALS using the details below:
- Online: http://vals.org.au/contact-us
- Phone: (03) 9418 5999 or 1800 064 865.
If you are under 25 and have questions about police powers, please send us a Lawmail at www.lawstuff.org.au/lawmail
If you’re over 25, please contact Legal Aid Victoria on 1300 792 387.
Page last updated 21 June 2015