Police and your rights 

If you are a young person (aged under 17) then you have rights in addition to those that adults have. For information about them see our Police and young people page.

Do I have to answer questions asked by the Police?

If a Police officer approaches you and asks you for general information (eg, about you, or an event, or someone else) it is generally up to you what information you provide. It’s your choice whether you provide information to help with a police investigation, but the Police don’t have a general power to require you to answer questions, even if you are arrested. Information about what your rights are if you are arrested is elsewhere on this page.

In certain circumstances however, the law gives the Police authority to require you to provide information such as your name and address: 

  • If you are driving, the Police can stop the vehicle and ask you for your name, address and birth date. If you don’t own the vehicle the Police can also require you to tell them who the owner is. 
  • If the Police believe you are committing an offence relating to the sale of alcohol, they can require you to provide your name, address and birth date.

If you refuse to give the Police the information that they are legally allowed to get from you, you can be arrested.

If you choose to give further information to the Police, think carefully about what you say or write down (eg, in a statement) as this can be used as evidence.

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Can I ask to see a Police officer’s ID?

Yes. If a Police officer is in plain clothes you can ask them for proof of identity to be sure they are they are a Police officer. If you ask to see their proof of identity they have to show it to you.

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When do I have to go with the Police?

If a Police officer asks you to go with them, you don’t have to go unless: 

  • you are arrested;  or
  • you are suspected of committing a drink-driving offence or driving under the influence of drugs.

If you are required to go with the Police and you refuse, you could have additional charges laid against you.

If you agree to go with the Police and you haven’t been arrested or failed a breath / blood test while driving, you can change your mind and leave at any time.

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When can the Police require me to stop my vehicle and have an alcohol or drug test?

The Police can ask you to stop your vehicle and have a breath screening test at any time (often this is at a Police checkpoint). If the Police suspect you have committed a driving offence, or you were the driver in an accident, they may also require you to have a breath screening test. If the Police have good reason to suspect you’ve taken drugs, they can also require you to do a compulsory (drug) impairment test in these situations.

If you refuse or you fail the breath screening test, the Police can require you to go with them to a place for an evidential breath test or blood test, or both. If you refuse to go they can arrest you. You have the right to talk to a lawyer before you take an evidential breath or blood test.

More information on alcohol and testing is on our Alcohol & testing page.

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What are my rights if I’m arrested?

If you are arrested you have particular rights. You have the right to:

  • be told, at the time of your arrest, the reason for your arrest (unless this isn’t practical or the reason is obvious in the circumstances)
  • remain silent and be told of that right
  • talk to a lawyer without delay, in private and for free, and be told of that right
  • be charged promptly or be released
  • be treated with humanity and respect
  • be brought before a court or tribunal as soon as possible.

If you don’t have a lawyer, you can ask to access a free lawyer through the Police Detention Legal Assistance (PDLA) service. The Police have a roster of criminal lawyers who you can choose from. The service is largely telephone based. Read our information about finding a lawyer.

If the police fail to perform their duties this may be taken into account when determining whether the arrest was reasonable or not.

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What information do I have to give the Police if I’m arrested?

If you’re arrested you must give the Police your name, address and date and place of birth. You must also allow your fingerprints and photo to be taken. You do not have to provide more information than this until you have spoken with your lawyer. The Police must inform you of this right at the time they arrest you.

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When can the Police take a DNA sample from me?

The Police can take a DNA sample from you in some circumstances:

  • if you consent to it or
  • if the court orders it (this is called a compulsion order) or
  • if the Police have detained or arrested you for an imprisonable offence, they may require you to give a DNA sample without your consent and without having to apply for the court’s permission.

A DNA sample is taken by using a buccal test, done by swabbing the inside of your mouth, or a blood test, usually done by a finger prick. You can choose which way the sample is taken unless a judge orders otherwise.

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How do I make a complaint about the Police?

If you believe you were mistreated or treated unfairly by the Police, then you have the right to make a complaint. You can make a complaint directly to the Police or to the Independent Police Conduct Authority (IPCA), the body that oversees complaints made against the Police.

Complaints can be made orally (over the phone or in person) or in writing (both the Police and the IPCA have online complaint forms you can use). If you have complained directly to the Police, the Police will let the IPCA know about your complaint but may also decide to carry out their own process.

You should make your formal complaint as soon as possible after the event occurred. If you were injured by the Police, see a doctor and have photos taken of your injuries. In serious cases you may also want to get legal advice.

When making your complaint, ensure you have included as much relevant information as possible, such as:  

  • your name and contact details, 
  • a description of what happened, 
  • the date, time and location of the incident, 
  • the names of anyone involved, or anyone who could help you resolve your complaint, 
  • the name and/or badge number of the officer(s) involved, 
  • details of any documents, witnesses or records that may help you resolve your complaint
  • and any other relevant information (such as doctors reports, photos of injuries etc).

To make a complaint to the IPCA: 

Independent Police Conduct Authority
PO Box 25221
Wellington 6146

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How will my complaint against the Police be dealt with?

Once the Independent Police Conduct Authority (IPCA) receives your complaint or is notified of the complaint you made directly to the Police, it will decide how to deal with your complaint and what type of investigation will be carried out. The IPCA may:

  • investigate the complaint itself, whether or not the Police have started their own investigation;
  • refer the complaint to the Police for investigation by the Police;
  • wait until they get a report from the Commissioner on a Police investigation of the complaint, or a criminal investigation or disciplinary action undertaken by the Police into the matter;
  • oversee a Police investigation of the complaint;
  • decide to take no action on the complaint.

Generally only the most serious complaints or situations where there is a strong public interest will be independently investigated by the IPCA. In other situations the IPCA has more of a supervisory role. Visit the IPCA website for more information about the IPCA and how your complaint will be dealt with.