Police powers: Search
Many young people (under 18) will encounter Police when they are out together. The Police are given special powers to prevent crime and protect the community. It is important to understand what these powers are and how to behave when the Police use these powers to avoid being charged with serious offences.
The power to search you, your bags and your car
If a Police Officer reasonably suspects that you have in your possession anything relevant to an offence (such as a knife, drugs, can of spray paint, stolen goods, mobile phone etc.), the Police Officer may do a basic search or a strip search of you and can search your bags and your car.
A “thing relevant to an offence” is anything that is intended to be used, is obtained, has been used or may afford evidence of an offence.
The Police may seize anything relevant to an offence that he/she finds, whether or not it is the thing the Police Officer suspected was in your possession or under your control. Items that have been seized may be returned at a later time in certain circumstances.
Police can enter any place where the person to be searched is, but not if you are in your own home.
There are two types of searches that can be done:
- Basic Search; and
- Strip Search.
A Basic Search involves such things as an electronic scan of the person, frisk search, removal of the person’s headwear, gloves, footwear or outer clothing (but not the inner clothing or underwear) in order to frisk search.
A Strip Search involves such things as removal of any article that the person is wearing including any covering of his/her private parts, search of the person’s external parts including his/her private parts, search of the person’s mouth (but not any other orifice).
How searches must be done
The searcher must first:
- Identify him/herself to you;
- Inform you of the reason for the search;
- Request that you consent to the search; and
- If you do not consent to the search, inform you that it is an offence to obstruct the searcher from doing the search.
The searcher must do the search as quickly as practicable and with as little intrusion as possible. If the searcher wants to remove any article the person is wearing, the searcher must tell you why this is necessary.
You must be allowed to dress as soon as the search is finished.
You must be provided with an adequate replacement for an article of clothing or footwear seized and you must not be questioned while the search is being done.
If you are under the age of 18 and have a Basic Search, the Police do not have to do this in the presence of your parents or responsible adult whereas with a Strip Search of you, this must be done (if practicable) in the presence of a parent or responsible adult or some other person who can provide you with support and represent your interests (e.g. a youth worker).
A Basic Search does not need to be carried out by a person of the same gender.
Strip Searches have additional rules in that it must not be done unless the searcher reasonably suspects that a strip search is necessary in the circumstances.
If it involves removing any article you are wearing or searching your private parts – the searcher must be of the same gender unless he/she is a doctor or nurse. Any other person present must also be of the same gender as the person being searched.
It must be done where it affords reasonable privacy to the person.
Always be careful not to hinder a search. If you do not understand why you are being searched, politely ask. You could say something like:
“I’m not refusing to co-operate but could you please tell me why I am being searched and what you think I have on me?”
A Search Warrant is usually required to search a house or premises but there are exceptions to this if, for example, you give permission, an offence is being committed at the time, or you have been arrested.
If you are concerned about the way that a search is being conducted, it is sensible to co-operate with the search at the time and then speak to the Officer in Charge of the Police Station after the event. You can complain to the State Ombudsman if you are unsatisfied with the police investigation of your complaint.
For more information on making a complaint about Police, visit the Legal Aid WA website.
Other police powers
The power to request your personal details: see our fact sheet.
The power to move you on: see our fact sheet.
The power to detain people who are intoxicated in public: see our fact sheet.
The power to move a child to a safe place: see our fact sheet.
The power of arrest: see our fact sheet.
Legal Aid: “Police powers to search”
Aboriginal Legal Service: “Young People and the Law” pamphlet
Check out the Youth Legal Service fact sheet: “Rights & responsibilities when encountering Police”.