What are people’s rights when interacting with the police?

Police can arrest you if:

  • you are committing an offence
  • they have reasonable grounds to suspect that you have committed an offence
  • you are breaching the peace
  • you have breached your bail conditions
  • the court ordered a warrant for you to be arrested
  • they need to serve you with an Apprehended Violence Order (AVO)
  • they want to apply for an urgent AVO against you.
The police should tell you:

  • that you are under arrest
  • why you are being arrested
  • their name and where they work.
Police cannot stop you on the street and demand you identify yourself, or search you, unless they think you have broken the law or have another proper reason for arresting you.

The police can stop you and ask you to show your driver licence if you are driving a car.

The police cannot arrest you just to ask you questions. If police want you to take part in their investigations, for example by questioning you or taking a statement, you have a right to speak to a lawyer or other person before you make a statement to police.

When are police officers allowed to use force?

Police may need to use force to:

  • stop a crime from happening or continuing
  • place someone under arrest if they are not co‑operating with the police
  • protect the person who is being arrested, or anybody else, from harm
  • prevent someone from running away.
Police must never use more force than is necessary. If someone thinks police have used force unnecessarily or more force than they needed to they should get legal advice. The force may be assault.

My client is not happy with something the police have done. What can they do?

  • Call the relevant police station and speak with the Officer in Charge
  • Call the Police Customer Assistance Unit on
     1800 622 571
  • If the complaint is about serious misconduct or serious maladministration, or if you want a review of a complaint that was investigated by the Police contact the Law Enforcement Conduct Commission

My client has complained about the police and is not happy with the result. Where else can they go?

If you are not happy with the outcome of a police complaint you can go to the Law Enforcement Conduct Commission (LECC).

What can you be arrested for if you have been drinking or are on drugs?

The most common drug‑related driving charges are:

  • Driving under the influence of a drug’. To be charged with this offence you must actually be affected by the drug.
  • Driving with an illicit drug present in oral fluid, blood or urine’. The drug only needs to be detected in your system. You can break this law even if you are no longer affected by the drug.
  • Refusing to be tested.
The most common alcohol‑related driving charges are:

  • ‘prescribed concentration of alcohol’ (PCA) offence
  • ‘driving under the influence’ (DUI) offence
  • refusing or failing to give a breath analysis or blood sample
  • dangerous driving involving alcohol.
Site content is current as at November 2018

​For more information

Legal Aid NSW brochure — Police powers: your rights and responsibilities [PDF 636kb]

NSW Police Force — How to lodge a complaint

For legal advice

For free telephone advice about police complaints contact the Redfern Legal Centre.

Legal Aid NSW brochure — Drink driving charges and you [PDF 413kb]

Legal Aid NSW brochure — Drugs, driving and you [PDF 81kb]

Guide for community workers

Download the PDF version of the Community Workers Guide [PDF 871kb]

Thumbnail image of Community Workers Guide cover page - PDF version