Police Powers - Part 1

Police Powers - Part 1

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Part 1 – Power to search

Police have a variety of powers to assist them carry out work in the community. These are generally set out in the Law Enforcement (Powers and Responsibilities) Act 2002. As a member of the community, you have certain rights and responsibilities when police stop to speak to you. Best rule of thumb is to stay calm and respectful – if you become aggressive or violent, things will probably get worse even if you have done nothing wrong in the first place.

Power to search

Police are permitted to search you, or your car or other vehicle and possessions if they have reasonable grounds to suspect that you are carrying:

  • stolen or unlawfully obtained goods
  • prohibited drugs
  • an item that can be used to commit a serious crime, for instance, tools that would assist in breaking into a car or house
  • knives or weapons
  • a laser pointer

Police can also search you and your car if they have reasonable grounds to suspect that the car:

  • has been used in connection with a serious offence
  • contains stolen or unlawfully obtained goods
  • contains prohibited drugs
  • contains items used for the commission of an offence
  • there are circumstances in a public place or school likely to give rise to a serious risk to public safety
  • is carrying a person, that is a passenger, who is wanted for arrest

What are reasonable grounds to suspect?

There must be a factual basis for police to have a suspicion and could be based on the following:

  • Your location and whether it is suspicious
  • The time of day
  • Your behaviour
  • Your criminal history/antecedents

Police can also search you if you have been arrested and again when you are taken to the police station. See more about arrest below.

Can police tell me to move on?

Police can give you a "move on direction" in a public place even in circumstances where you believe you have done nothing wrong. you can be asked to "move on if police have reason to believe that you are:

  • Acting in a disorderly manner because of intoxication or in a way that is likely to cause an injury to another person or property
  • Getting in the way of other people or traffic
  • Harassing or intimidating people
  • Causing fear to other people
  • Supplying or planning to supply illegal drugs
  • Planning to buy or obtain illegal drugs

The direction given must be reasonable and aimed at preventing the behaviour above. The police must:

  • Provide evidence that they are a police officer, unless they are in uniform
  • Tell you their name and the station he or she is on duty at
  • Tell you that you are required under law to comply with the direction as soon as possible, and
  •  If you refuse to move on, must tell you that if you fail to comply with the request, you are committing an offence.

If you think you are being treated unfairly, it may be best to comply with the request and make a complaint later rather than risk an on the spot fine or other charge.

If you would like more information or if we can help in anyway, contact Kingston Fox Lawyers.

This article is a summary of this topic and does not constitute legal advice. It is provided by way of information only. It is recommended that if you are charged with an offence that you seek legal advice.

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Police Powers - Part 2 - Arrest

Police Powers - Part 2 - Arrest