Police powers and my rights

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I have come into contact with the police. What should I do?

If you come into contact with the police, it’s a good idea to make sure you stay calm and respectful. Being aggressive or violent with police will probably make things worse even if you have done nothing wrong. You can get into trouble just for behaving badly with the police.

For example, if you swear at the police, or even around the police, or if you try to dodge police while they are trying to arrest you, you could be charged for doing these things.

If you feel like you’re being treated unfairly by them, there are ways to fix this later on by getting legal help. It’s a good idea to take notes of what’s happened either with a pen and paper or in your phone so you can better remember these events later.

Move along powers

Sometimes the police can ask you to leave a place. This is called being told to ‘move on.’  You can be told to move on from a place by the police if they have a reason to think:

  • that you have committed a crime or are about to commit a crime;  
  • people in the area are in danger;
  • your actions might get in the way of other people or vehicles; or
  • you’re annoying or irritating others in a public place.

Talking to the police

Sometimes you have to give your name and address like if the police think:

  • you’ve committed a crime;
  • you may be able to help with an investigation into a crime; or
  • you’re driving a car or riding a motorbike.

They can also ask if they believe you’re affected by alcohol.

It is against the law to give the police a fake name or address. You could be fined up to $600!

Besides from giving the police your name and address in the situations above, you do not need to say anything else.  The 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 (proof that you did something) in court.

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.  It’s better to go along with it and make a complaint afterwards than risk being charged with obstructing a police officer.

Police interviews

You can’t be forced to attend a police interview unless you are under arrest.  If the police ask you to go to the station with them, you should ask if you’re under arrest.  If you aren’t, you don’t have to go.

If you’re under 18 and are suspected of committing a serious crime, before the police interview you, they have to let you have a support person (like a parent or carer)  or a lawyer present during the interview.

You also have the right to remain silent. This means you don’t have to say anything in an interview except your name and address.

Are the police allowed to search me?

If the police don’t have a warrant (a warrant is special permission from a court), they can still search you if they think you have:

  • something connected with a crime like something that is usually used for breaking into houses, stealing cars or taking drugs;
  • a weapon  like a gun or a knife; or
  • illegal drugs or things that can be inhaled to get high.

If the police have a warrant, they can stop and search you, your car or your house.If you’ve been arrested, the police can also search you. If you don’t cooperate, they’re allowed to use reasonable force to do so.

How will I be searched?

If you’re under 18, most of the time a police officer can’t search you, your property or your clothes unless a support person is with you. This could be a parent, carer, lawyer or someone else that you choose to be there.

But, the police can search you without a support person present where:

  • the search needs to be carried out urgently;
  • delaying the search could put you or another person in danger; or
  • delaying the search may cause evidence to be lost or destroyed.

If they do this, the police have to make sure to give you appropriate respect and not cause you unnecessary embarrassment. Someone of the same sex should do the search and it must be done in a private place.

Before they search you, the police also have to tell you that you’re allowed to get legal advice and representation.

There are two main types of searches – frisk and strip searches.

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 or after they have asked you to take them off) and any pockets for these items.

Strip searches

Strip searches can only be done if police reasonably believe that by removing your clothing, they can collect evidence relevant to a crime; and the police have to give you clothing to replace any they’ve removed.

Other searches

The police can also use sniffer dogs to search you for illegal drugs at sporting events, concerts and at other public places or events. If a sniffer dog indicates that it has smelt the odour of drugs, the police can search you without a warrant.

The police have taken my stuff. Can they do this?

A police officer can also take and keep anything that belongs to you if they think:

  • it can be used to prove someone committed a crime;
  • it’s dangerous to health or safety;
  • it’s a weapon, like a gun or a knife; or
  • it’s an illegal drug.

In the Northern Territory, there are places where it’s against the law to drink and have alcohol. If police find you drinking in a place where you’re not allowed to, or think you have been, they can take your alcohol too.

If the police take something of yours that you think is not illegal for you to have, you can ask the police for it back. If the police do not return it to you, you probably will need to ask for it back if you go to court.

If the police have taken your stuff and you’re not sure what to do, you can contact us here.

When can I be arrested?

The police can take you in to custody (but not arrest you) if they think you’re drunk in public or trespassing somewhere privately owned, and:

  • you may cause harm to yourself or someone else;
  • you can’t look after yourself, and there’s no-one else to look after you;
  • you might intimidate, alarm or annoy people; or
  • you’re likely to commit an offence.

Being searched while under arrest

If you have been arrested, the police can also search you (see above).

Can the police use force to arrest me?

A police officer can use as much force as they need to arrest you or stop you escaping, but nothing 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 they have behaved inappropriately, it’s best to go along with it and make a complaint later.

How long can police keep me for?

If you are arrested, the police can keep you for as long as they need to ask you questions and investigate the crime but they cannot keep you any longer than this. 

If you are not under arrest, police cannot keep you and you are free to go (unless you are in custody).

Further help

If you are under 25 and have questions about police powers, you can get help here.

If you are an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person and have any problems during an arrest then there are different agencies you can call, or ask the police to call for you.

If you are living in the northern areas of the Northern Territory you can call the North Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency (NAAJA) on:

  • Darwin: 1800 898 251
  • Katherine: 1800 897 728
  • Nhulunbuy: 1800 022 823

This is a 24 hour legal service and you will be able to speak to a solicitor.

If you are Indigenous

If you are an Aboriginal person living in the southern areas of the Northern Territory you can call the Central Australian Aboriginal Legal Aid Service (CAALAS) on 1800 636 079. This is another 24 hour legal service and there is always a solicitor on call.


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