1 Sep 2015

10 police myths busted

9:24 am on 1 September 2015

We rely on the police to keep us safe and treat us fairly, but do you know your rights when it comes to dealing with the cops?

It’s time to bust some common myths that could come in handy in sticky situations. 

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Myth 1: A police officer has pulled me over and is asking a lot of questions. I have to answer every single one, right?

Actually, in most cases, all you have to say to a police officer if they are questioning you is your name, date of birth and address. You do not have to answer any other questions.

Myth 2: I’ve been caught with an open bottle of wine in a liquor ban area. The officer says I have to go over to the gutter and watch them pour it out :( 

Stay put! You do not have to go anywhere with them unless you have been arrested. If you are arrested, you must accompany them to the police station.

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Myth 3: A police officer wants to search my car, but that Jay Z song says they need a warrant for that.

Well, it depends. Police do need a warrant from a judge to search your car, but they can also search it without a warrant if you’re arrested or they have a reasonable suspicion that you have drugs or weapons in your car. They can also search your vehicle if they believe it has stolen property. They need to advise you prior to searching your car why they are doing it though.


Myth 4: I started taking pictures of my friend being arrested in town, but the cops told me to stop.

You don't have to! It is lawful to take photographs of anyone in public places without their consent, and this includes police officers. You can also film police on private property if you have the consent of the property owner.

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Myth 5: I was arrested, but I have no idea why! I guess we’ll never know.

False. The police have to tell you why you are being arrested. They must also inform you of your rights under the New Zealand Bill of Rights - that you may remain silent, that anything you say or write down in answering the questions may be used as evidence against you, and that you have the right to speak to a lawyer.

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Myth 6: I don’t want to answer the police’s questions, but I have to wait until they tell me I have the right to remain silent.

While police need to formally advise you of your right to remain silent when you are arrested, you still do not have to answer any police questions except to give your name, date of birth and address whether or not you are arrested.

Myth 7: I resisted arrest and the police office grabbed me as I walked away! Surely that’s excessive force.

Probably not. The Crimes Act 1961 states a police officer may use such force “as may be necessary to overcome any force used in resisting such execution or arrest”, unless it can be done in a less violent matter. In other words, they can use reasonable force in order to carry out their duties.

What is reasonable will depend on the circumstances and if there is any immediate risk or danger. If you do think the police used excessive force, you are able to lodge a complaint either with the officer’s local branch or with the independent police conduct authority who will investigate the matter.

If you have been injured, the authority may assess any evidence you have of this and may make orders which might include acknowledgement that you should not have been injured if they do not consider that it was reasonable in the circumstances.


Myth 8:  I’ve been arrested, but I don’t know any lawyers so I guess I don’t get one.

Not true. Police have a list of the names and phone numbers of lawyers qualified to give advice and who have agreed to be contacted any time, day or night. Ask for the list of Police Detention Legal Assistance Lawyers.

Myth 9: Ok, I've got a lawyer I'd like to use. I'll wait until the officer gives them a call.

Once you are arrested you are entitled to call a lawyer without delay.

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Myth 10: The police can treat me however they want because they're the LAW. 

No way, Jose. The Bill of Rights Act and the Human Rights Act apply to the police. This means they cannot discriminate against you due to race, gender or sexual orientation. If you think the police have discriminated against you, you have the right to make a complaint to the Independent Police Conduct Authority.

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This legal information was provided by YouthLaw. It shouldn't be regarded as legal advice. If you are looking for help with legal issues, contact YouthLaw or a Community Law centre near you.