Police powers and my rights

For free and confidential legal advice about this topic, please contact us here.

Navigate this page

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 swear 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 and not come back for up to 24 hours.  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:

  • Are being violent or making people fear that you will be violent;
  • Are about to be violent or cause others to think you will be violent;
  • Have committed or are in the middle of committing an offence; and/or
  • Are about to commit crime.

Talking to the police

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

    • The officer thinks you have committed or are about to commit a crime;
    • You are at a place which serves alcohol or you have bought alcohol using a fake ID;
  • You’re driving a car or riding a motorbike;
  • You are carrying illegal drugs; or

It is against the law to give the police a fake name or address. You could be fined or imprisoned for up to 12 months!

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.  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 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.

Police cannot keep you to ask questions for longer than 6 hours, unless a senior officer has a valid reason.

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 arrest you and they don’t have a warrant (a warrant is special permission from a court), they can still search you if they reasonably think you have something that’s related to a crime.

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

How will I be searched?

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

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.

Basic searches

A police officer can pat down or run a metal detector over the outside of your clothes to feel for guns, knives, drugs or other items. The police may also check your outer clothes and any pockets for the items listed above.

Strip searches

A police officer can ask you to remove all or some of your clothes but they can’t search private areas of your body like your anus or vagina. Strip searches have to be carried out by a person of the same sex as you, and they can only keep you as long as they need to do the search.

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

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 they think you’re under 18.

A police officer can also take anything that belongs to you if you’re drunk and they think it could endanger your health or safety or any other person, including drugs.

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, please contact us here.

When can I be arrested?

The police can arrest you if they think:

  • You’re are committing a crime, about to or have committed a crime; AND
  • Arresting you is necessary action to make sure that you don’t repeat the offence, destroy evidence damage someone’s property or endanger someone else’s safety.

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

The police have to 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 are arrested, the police can keep you up to six hours.  If it’s more than that, they need to get permission from a senior police officer to extend the period.

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’re over 25, please contact Legal Aid WA on 1300 650 579.

If you are Indigenous

If you are an Indigenous person then you should let the police know this. If you have any questions or problems with the law you can call the

Aboriginal Legal Service of WA. Aboriginal Legal Service of WA is an organisation that focuses on helping Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders who become involved with the police and criminal law. You can contact the Aboriginal Legal Service of WA using the details below:

Aboriginal Legal Service of WA

Phone: 1800 019 900 or (08) 9265 6666

After hours phone: (08) 9265 6644

Address: 7 Aberdeen Street, Perth WA 6004

For interpreting services in the Far North contact the Kimberley Interpreter Service:

Tel: (08) 9192 3981

Mob: 0439 943 612  

Got a question you can't get answered?

If you have a problem or a question, you can send it to us today and we can provide you with free advice, information and referrals to help solve your problem. Just click on the button below.

Get help now

Select Your State or Territory

The law is different in each state and territory. Please select your state or territory to view legal information that applies to you.