Police Powers

Police powers are defined by rules and regulations

What powers do police have when it comes to using force? When it comes to what force a police officer can and can’t use, there can be a lot of confusion. These are the powers they do have.
news.com.au , Tom Livingstone, 27 May, 2018


If you find yourself in a difficult situation with a police officer, or you see them behaving questionably, it could be footage from your mobile phone that proves crucial.

Everyone has a smartphone, so when there are cases of police brutality it is more and more likely there  will be footage.

Earlier this month, police in Melbourne were filmed kicking a suspect in the face. That is not an  approved tactical response, no matter what state you’re in.

So what powers do police have when it comes to using force against a member of the public?

According to the Law Enforcement Conduct Commission (LECC), there have been 93 investigations into NSW Police use of force, 18 of which include allegations of assault and unreasonable force. Additionally “a significant number of complaints about unreasonable use of force are being investigated by the NSW

Police Force.” These additional investigations are also subject to oversight by the LECC.

With such a high number of investigations into officers using excessive force and acting questionably,

any footage is integral in determining why and to what extent officers abuse their powers.

Policing students are trained in weapon handling, tactical defence and effective communication when studying at the academy and their competence must be approved before assuming duties.

While each situation is different, rarely is excessive force warranted, no matter the circumstances.

“The NSW Police Force takes complaints against employees very seriously, and will investigate complaints via a range of avenues appropriate to the nature of the allegation”, a spokesman from the Police Integrity Commission (PIC) told news.com.au.

So you have a better understanding of what’s allowed (and what isn’t), here is a selection of the standard operating  procedures officers should follow:


This is the most powerful ‘weapon’ in an officer’s artillery. In all workplaces, how effective you are as a communicator can diffuse or escalate any tense situation.

Just look at the fundamentals Dale Carnegie’s book How to Win Friends and Influence People teaches across the world.

It’s an old book, but the principles it advocates are timeless. When a student begins their training at the police academy, communication is one of the first things they’re trained in.

An officer should be clear and assertive in how they speak to a member of the public and carry  themselves with a sense of authority and purpose. Unfortunately for some young officers, while  grasping this concept during training, misinterpret it when on duty. This could be an officer speaking to you aggressively when you’re pulled over for a random breath test.

Effective use of your words can completely turn a situation around. I once arrested an offender who spent half the night in police custody. The next day they contacted the boss to say thank you for how respectful and polite I was. They were locked in a holding cell and had a whole lot of charges against them, but this situation proved you catch more flies with honey.



An officer’s power to place someone under arrest lies in the Law Enforcement Powers and  Responsibilities Act ( LEPRA ) 2002.

If the officer suspects on reasonable grounds that a person has committed or is committing an offence, they may arrest them. Reasons include:

  • Repeating an offence or committing another offence
  • To stop them from fleeing the officer or location of offence
  • To determine the person’s identity
  • To ensure they appear before court in relation to the offence
  • To obtain property relating to an offence if it’s in the person’s possession
  • To preserve evidence or prevent fabrication of evidence
  • To prevent harassment or interference of a person who may give evidence relating to an offence (victim, witness, etc)
  • To protect safety and welfare of any person including the arrested person
  • Because of the nature and seriousness of the offence

As you can see, these can be interpreted in different ways, so there is a variety of reasons a person may be arrested.



Recently, another group of Victorian police were suspended when footage emerged of them punching a disabled pensioner while dousing him in oleoresin capsicum (OC) spray.

The way police handle risks to safety differs depending on the circumstances, but there are typically three strikes an officer can use when and if the situation calls for it.

Hammer strike: With a closed fist, the officer hits with a hammer like motion, to a non-life-threatening area (This is typically the arm, chest or thigh. Not the face, throat, groin or anywhere dangerous).

Palm strike: This is used when an officer needs to create distance between themself and an approaching offender.

With open palms, the officer forcefully pushes the person away while yelling: “Get back.” The hard shove ideally creates distance and stops the offender from attacking the officer or a member of the public.

Again the use of loud clear communication is a staple for all police across the world, so if ever you witness officers yelling loudly at a person, this is why.

Elbow strike: Obviously, an elbow is bony and can do a lot of damage. This move should only be used if there’s risk to an officer or a member of the public’s safety.

With the forearm bent in towards the officer’s bicep, the elbow is driven into a large surface area on the body, similar to the Hammer Strike. This is a powerful move and can make the person comply.

It’s extremely rare when a situation will call for an officer to elbow someone in the head or face and it’s even rarer that an officer should be heard goading the person while they do it.


In January this year, officers attached to a Byron Bay station were filmed beating a naked 16-year-old with a baton as he screamed for help.

I remember an instance where a group of officers at my command, responded to a large male who had smashed a shop window on a busy street. He was drug affected and violent. The first officers on the scene attempted to communicate with him as three more cars arrived. The man’s temper escalated and he approached the officers swearing and waving his arms. One officer pulled out his OC spray and warned the man not to approach any further. Ignoring the request, he pushed forward and got sprayed in the face.

He posed an immediate threat to the officer’s safety and ignored verbal communication so the spray was appropriate. It stung the man’s eyes long enough for officers to jump on him with handcuffs.

This is where it gets questionable.

With eight officers on top of the man and his hands already cuffed, a senior officer who had just arrived asked why no one had used a baton. The man was under control but the senior officer yelled: “He’s still resisting, f***ing belt him!”

While large in build, there were eight officers piled on top of him and his hands were in cuffs while he complained about the spray stinging his eyes. Still the most senior officer thought more force was needed.

A probationary constable, who was itching to use his baton for the first time, pulled it out and started

laying into the man’s thigh, resulting in a pretty large  bruise.

My opinion is the situation didn’t call for it, but a senior officer directed ‘somebody’ to use their baton and the junior officer thought ‘why not’.

Like I said, different situations call for different action, but when a junior  officer is influenced by senior staff not doing the right thing, there lies the problem.



A Conducted Electrical Weapon, or ‘Taser’, is an option police can use in situations where there is ‘high risk’ of serious injury. Its purpose is to protect human life, prevent bodily harm, or diffuse a violent

confrontation. A Taser shouldn’t be used to stop someone from running, or as pain compliance. They  release 50,000 volts when the probes penetrate skin and cause Neuromuscular Incapacitation.

Unfortunately in some instances the shock can be deadly .

The probes release five second rounds but can be used to ‘drive stun’ if ineffective.

A Taser can’t be activated without the in-built camera and microphone activating.

If used, footage is uploaded to a server and provides evidence in the matter.

It shows exactly where the target was standing, what was said by everyone and whether use of the device was warranted. If footage shows a person being compliant, surrendering or trying to run from officers and getting tasered in the back, that is typically seen as a big fail by police.

While this is just a sample of powers the police have, it gives you an idea of what they should and shouldn’t be doing when dealing with the public.

Tom Livingstone is a former ‘first response’ officer with the NSW Police.

( source ) (from Adrian Barnett)

Thanks to Issue 119, ACP newsletter (Aussies for the Control of Politicians — acp@beagle.com.au, July 2018 for supplying this information.

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