When can I be stopped and searched?

In NSW the police have the right to stop and search you, your car, boat, bike, bag or belongings without a warrant if they can honestly argue they believe that you:

  • have stolen goods on your person
  • have hidden weapons upon your person for example guns or knives;
  • have illegal drugs
  • are carrying anything they deem dangerous
  • have something that you will use to commit a crime.
  • Or you consent to being searched

Police need to inform why they are searching you. If they don’t tell you why they want to search you need to ask them.

How will I be searched?

There are two main types of searches police use – frisk search or a strip search.
No matter what type of search police carry out, the police must organise an officer of the same sex to search you. The aim is to not embarrass or humiliate you especially if you are being searched in public.

If police argue you are being difficult, then police can use reasonable force to search you and they can use this as an excuse to arrest you as well. Therefore, it’s a good idea to cooperate. Make sure you get their name, badge number and station they work from.

If you are not happy or are concerned about the way you have been treated by NSW police officers, you have the right to complain. If you have been stopped and searched you can complain to The NSW Police Local Area Commander where the event occurred or you can ring NSW Police Customer Assistance Line 1800 622 571.

What is a frisk search?

A frisk search a police officer pats you down or runs a metal detector over the outside of your clothes to feel for guns, knives, drugs or other items. The police may also check your outer clothes (while you wear them or after they have asked you to take them off) and any pockets.

The officer isn’t allowed to search around your private areas unless they think it’s necessary. But if the officer thinks you are hiding something, they can ask you to open your mouth or shake your hair.

What is a strip search?

Police can only carry out a strip search if they have reasonable grounds that it is necessary and the circumstances are serious and urgent. The police must provide you with as much privacy as possible. A police officer will ask you to remove all or some of your clothes, but a strip search does not involve a search of your body’s cavities or an examination of your body by touch. Strip searches can’t be done in front of other people who aren’t the same sex as you or aren’t involved in the search and if you are under 18 you’re allowed to have a parent or carer with you while it’s going on.

What other types of searches are there?

If you are at school, the police can search your bag and locker for knives or other dangerous items. The police can also use sniffer dogs to search you for illegal drugs at sporting events, concerts and at other public places or events.

Can I refuse to be search?

The police must tell you the name and place of duty of the police officer performing the search. They must also tell you the reason for the search. If you do not comply with the search you may be committing an offence. Police can arrest you and use force to search you at the police station. You can also be fined or charged and ordered to appear in court if you refuse to be searched.

What can I do about unfair search?

If you feel that you have been unfairly targeted by police you have a few choices. You can choose to comply with the police order and complain later. You can complain to the NSW Ombudsman or the Local Area Commander or NSW Police Customer Assistance Line on 1800 622 571.[or you can refuse to comply and risk being arrested or fined. You can refuse to pay your fine and ask for the matter to be dealt with in court and let the magistrate decide if the police action was unlawful.

Where can I find out more information about my rights?

There are plenty of useful websites you can find more information or get free legal advice from. These include: 

Lawstuff Know your rights

Community Legal Centre

Shopfront Legal Service

Aboriginal Legal Service

Legal Aid