Police powers and my rights with the Police

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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 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 on your phone so you can make a complaint later.

Move along powers

Sometimes the police can ask you to leave a place and not come back.   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 you:

  • Have committed a crime or are about to;
  • Are getting in the way of other people or cars;
  • Are putting other people in danger; or
  • Are likely to behave antisocially and be a nuisance to others.

If you don’t ‘move on’ after police tell you to, you could be fined up to $1,250.

Talking to the police

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

  • The police think you’ve broken, or are breaking, the law;
  • The police think you can help them investigate a crime;
  • You’re driving a car or riding a motorbike;
  • You are carrying a firearm;
  • The police have stopped you for a breath test when you’re driving; or
  • You are at a place which serves alcohol

It is against the law to give the police a fake name or address. You could be fined up to $1,250.

Besides from giving the police your name, your date of birth 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.

You can also politely ask them questions such as “Can you tell me why you need my name and address?”

Police interviews

You generally 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.

Before the police interview you, they have to tell you that you can call a friend or family member and a lawyer. Also, you will normally be allowed to have a parent or carer with you.

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:

  • You’re taken into custody for being a danger as you’re drinking, are drunk or have an open bottle of alcohol in public;
  • You’re taken into custody and they think you might have a weapon or dangerous item or something that can be used as evidence for a crime;
  • They think you have something that’s been stolen or otherwise illegal; or

If the police have a warrant, they can stop and search you or your house.

How will I be searched?

It’s a good idea to cooperate with a search and you can ask questions such as “Can you tell me why you’re searching me?” If you think the police have behaved inappropriately, you can make a complaint afterwards rather than stand there and argue with them. If you resist, the police may use force.

Police can strip frisk search you (by patting you down and asking you to remove your jacket) if they reasonably think you have something on you which is stolen, is evidence of a serious crime or if you have drugs on you.

If you’ve been arrested, the police can also strip search you (or “intimate search”) and do a cavity search (or “intrusive” search).  A strip search is when you are asked to remove some or all of your clothes.  A cavity search includes searching or genital area including your anus or vagina.  Unless it is urgent, cavity and strip searches have to be done by someone of the same sex as you. Cavity searches can only be done by medical practitioners or registered nurses.

When you are under 18, strip and cavity searches can only be done if there is an adult that you have called with you. This can be a lawyer, relative or an adult friend. If the police think it’s urgent, they may not allow you to call someone.

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

If you’re under 18, the police can take and keep any alcohol that they think you’ve been drinking in public and also any cigarettes they find on you.

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.

There may be other situations where police can take things from you.

When can I be arrested?

The police can arrest you if they think:

  • You’re committing a crime;
  • You’ve already committed a crime;
  • You’re about to cause harm to someone else or their property.

The police can also arrest you if they have a warrant (a warrant is special permission from a court).

The police should always tell you why you have been arrested. If they don’t, it’s a good idea to ask.

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 the police 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’re under arrest, the police can generally keep you for up to 4 hours, unless they get an extension from a magistrate or judge.

If you are not under arrest, police cannot keep you and you are free to go.

Further help

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

If you are Indigenous

If you are an Indigenous person then you should let the police know this.  There are special rules about how police must treat Indigenous people. If you have any questions or problems you should call Aboriginal Legal Rights Movement Inc on the following numbers:

  • Adelaide Office: phone: (08) 8113 3777
  • Freecall number: 1800 643 222


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