Police and your rights

New Zealand has a police force that is reliable, trustworthy and approachable. The New Zealand Police solve a comparatively high number of crimes. Police in New Zealand must follow strict rules. They do not harass you in day-to-day life and do not generally carry personal firearms.



The New Zealand Police work to prevent crime and enforce the law by bringing lawbreakers to justice. They also handle traffic management, patrolling roads for traffic offences and issuing tickets and infringement notices for breaking the road rules.

Other responsibilities include

  • Keeping the peace and maintaining public safety
  • Providing community support and reassurance
  • Assisting with national security and emergency management.

New Zealand Police see their work as very much a shared responsibility. Their slogan is ‘Safer Communities Together’, so they work closely with local communities and organisations.


Code of conduct and limits on police power

The New Zealand Police must keep to a code of conduct that demands their ethical and professional behaviour at all times. Here are some examples of misconduct and serious misconduct:



  • Breaching Police policies or procedures
  • Treating a person harshly
  • Using abusive or offensive language
  • Misuse of Police internet or email systems
  • Using any Police databases for any unauthorised or personal purpose
  • Being absent from work or late without proper reason
  • Failure to declare a conflict of interest
  • Misuse, mistreatment or not taking reasonable care of Police property
  • Not complying with a lawful and reasonable instruction without a good and sufficient reason
  • Bringing Police into disrepute through any actions or behaviour


Serious Misconduct

  • Being convicted of or pleading guilty to an offence
  • Corruption – accepting a bribe, inducement or reward
  • Bullying or harassment
  • Sexual misconduct
  • Theft or dishonesty of any kind
  • Unauthorised access to, or disclosure of any matter or information related to Police business including NIA
  • Repeated misconduct (including breach of a warning)
  • Knowingly making a false declaration or statement (including incorrectly recording data)
  • Excessive unjustified violence

If you do happen to have an interaction with the police, it is important that you know your rights:


Entry powers: When the police can come into your home

The police don’t have any automatic right to come into your home. If you haven’t agreed to it, the police can only come inside if they’ve got a legal power to do this either because:

  • they’ve got a warrant (written authority) from a court – for example, a search warrant or an arrest warrant
  • they’re preventing or investigating a crime, or they’re enforcing the law.

Note: If you’ve agreed to let the police come inside your home, you can change your mind at any time and the police then have to leave straightaway (unless something has given them a legal power to stay – for example, if they see a cannabis plant or other illegal drugs).


Search powers: When the police can search you, your home or your things

There are important restrictions on when the police can search your home, your car, your bags and other things, and you personally. They can only do it if they have your permission (“consent”) or if they have a specific legal power, either because they’ve got a warrant (written authority) from a judge or it’s a situation where an Act of Parliament gives them the power to do it without a warrant.
But even if you agree to the search, the search may still be illegal in some situations – which means that, for example, the police might not be able to use things they find as evidence against you if they bring criminal charges in court.


Being questioned by the police:

If you encounter the police when, for example, you’re just walking down the street, they’re allowed to ask you questions if they think you might have useful information about a crime they’re investigating.
But the police aren’t allowed to tell you, or suggest to you, that you have to answer the questions.
If the police are holding you (whether or not you’re under arrest) and they want to question you, they first have to tell you these basic rights:

  • You can keep quiet! – The police have to tell you that you don’t have to answer any of their questions or say anything at all. You can just stay silent.
  • You can talk to a lawyer – They have to tell you that you’ve got the right to talk to a lawyer, in private, and without any unreasonable delay, before you decide whether or not to answer the police’s questions. They also have to tell you that you can talk to a lawyer for free under the Police Detention Legal Assistance scheme.
  • What you say can be used against you – The police have to tell you that anything you say to them will be recorded and can be given as evidence in court later on.

Although it’s up to you, it’s almost always best not to say anything to the police before you’ve had the chance to talk to a lawyer.


Being arrested: your rights

If the police arrest you, or if you’re not under arrest but the police are holding you (for example, for a search for illegal drugs or weapons), you have these rights:

  • They have to treat you with humanity and respect.
  • They have to tell you, at the time they make the arrest, the reason for it (unless this isn’t practical or the reason is obvious in the circumstances).
  • If the police have an arrest warrant, they have to show you the warrant as soon as practical after the arrest if you ask to see it.
  • You have the right to remain silent.
  • You have the right to talk to a lawyer, in private and without any unreasonable delay, and the police also have to tell you that you have this right, including that you can talk to a lawyer for free under the Police Detention Legal Assistance scheme “Legal Aid”
  • The police have to charge you promptly or else release you.
  • If they don’t release you they have to bring you before a court as soon as possible.


If the police charge you, you have the right to:

  • be told what the charge is
  • talk to a lawyer
  • have a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial court
  • be presumed to be innocent unless and until you’re proven guilty.


Surveillance Powers

Police do not have the power to place surveillance or interception devices on private property (without the consent of the occupier), unless this is to obtain evidence in relation to an offence:

  • that is punishable by a prison term of at least seven years, or
  • that is a specific offence under the Arms Act 1983, mainly offences relating to the unlawful possession of specific weapons.


Police do not need a warrant to record (secretly or otherwise), if the police are:

  • Lawfully on private property and recording what they observe
  • Recording audio material of a voluntary conversation, so long as one person who is part of the conversation consents to this (if the police officer is a part of the conversation they can be the person who consents).


Police require a warrant issued by a judge to carry out the following surveillance activities:

  • Using an interception device to intercept private communication
  • Using a tracking device (unless it is solely to learn if something is opened or tampered with, and installing the device does not involve trespass)
  • Observing private activity and recording it by visual surveillance
  • Using a surveillance device that involves trespass
  • Observing and recording a private premises, even if it does not involve trespass, unless the surveillance is for less than three hours in any 24-hour period, or less than eight hours in total.


If criminal proceedings have commenced, raw surveillance data (including visual footage, audio recordings, etc) can be kept by the police until:

  • the criminal proceedings related to the offence for which the surveillance was collected (including appeals) have finished,
  • any appeal period for those criminal proceedings has expired (whichever is latest).


If no criminal proceedings are commenced, the police can keep raw surveillance data for:

  • three years, if the data is required for an ongoing investigation, or
  • up to two more years if specified by order (whichever is latest).


DNA samples: When you have to give a sample

There are two situations when the police can legally make you give them a DNA sample:

  • You’re under arrest or about to be charged – If the police have arrested you for a jail-able offence or they intend to charge you, they can legally require you to give a DNA sample
  • The police have a court order – If the police suspect you of a jail-able offence and you’ve refused to give them a DNA sample after they asked you for one, the police can go to the District Court to ask a judge to order you to give a sample


Information the police hold about you and how to get access to it:
You’re entitled to have access to the information that any organisation has about you, whether it’s a private business or a government agency like the police. You can ask the police whether they have any information about you, and they have to then confirm whether or not they have any information about you. If they do, they have to provide you with access to it, with some exceptions.


Making a complaint:

If you believe the police have mistreated you or treated you unfairly, you can complain directly to the police, or you can complain to the Independent Police Conduct Authority, the Ombudsmen or a District Court. (The police, Ombudsmen or District Court must forward the complaint to the Independent Police Conduct Authority as soon as practicable).
You can complain verbally or in writing. If you do make a verbal complaint, you have to put it down in writing as soon as practicable.


Your complaint needs to say:

  • what happened
  • when and where it happened
  • the name or number of the police officer involved
  • any statements you have from people who witnessed what happened
  • doctors’ reports or photographs of any injuries
  • any other relevant information.

After the Independent Police Conduct Authority has received your complaint it will decide whether to investigate, and if so, what type of investigation to carry out.

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