Rights and Reponsibilities

What if...

A. What are the rights and responsibilities of the police?

Police officers have a sworn duty to prevent and investigate crimes and to keep the peace. They have the right to be treated with respect. The police officers must maintain certain standards, including respectful communication and minimum use of force. They are prohibited from using profanity, intimidation or harassment. If an officer does not identify themselves, you have the right to request and receive their name and/or badge number.

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B. What are the rights and responsibilities of citizens when dealing with the police?

Citizens have the right to be treated with respect.
Citizens have the responsibility to show Police the same courtesy and respect that they would wish for themselves.
Cooperative communication without profanity, intimidation or harassment will go a long way in obtaining fair and courteous treatment.

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1. What if the police approach me on the street?

Police can stop you if they see you committing an offence, if they have reasonable grounds to believe that you have committed an offence, are implicated in an offence under investigation, or if you are carrying a weapon. Remember to be respectful and polite. Keep your hands where the officer can see them, and put down things that you are holding if the officer asks you to. Stay calm. Do not walk or run away from the police. Attempting to leave will escalate the situation. In general, you are under no obligation to identify yourself to a police officer. However, to avoid suspicion or being mistaken for someone else, you should tell the police who you are and show them your identification. If you refuse to identify yourself, the police may arrest you until they find out who you are. Other than your identity, you don’t have to answer any questions. If you do, what you say may be used against you if you are arrested. You can ask the police if you are free to go, or if you are under arrest. If you are arrested or detained, you have the right to:

  • know why you are being arrested or detained
  • speak to a lawyer immediately and in private
  • free legal advice from a legal aid lawyer and the police must provide you with this number.

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2. What if the police stop me while I am driving?

The police have the authority to stop your vehicle to determine whether the vehicle is mechanically fit, whether you have a valid licence, insurance and ownership and whether your ability to drive is impaired by alcohol or a drug. If you are directed to stop:

  • Slow down and pull as far off the road as possible and stop.
  • Stay inside the vehicle unless directed otherwise by the officer.
  • Keep your hands where the officer can see them and don’t make any sudden movements.
  • Prepare to produce the necessary documents.
As the driver, you are responsible for passengers under 16 years of age including the requirement that they wear a seatbelt. If you are an adult passenger, you are not obliged to identify yourself or answer any questions unless the officer has reasonable grounds to believe you have committed an offence. The police have no right to search your vehicle after having stopped you, unless they have reasonable grounds to believe that your vehicle contains contraband.

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3. What if the police want to search me?

The police can search you, your clothes, and anything you are carrying if they have reason to believe you have a weapon or something illegal with you or if they arrest you. They can also search you if you give them “informed consent”, or permission. You can always refuse a search unless you are under arrest, but consenting to a search may help to reduce suspicion.

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4. What if the police want to search my home?

The police can only search your home if you give them “informed consent” (not generally recommended), if they have a search warrant, or if they have reason to believe that an offence is being committed. If the police come to your home with a search warrant, you should ask to see the warrant and check that the:

  • Address on it is yours
  • Police are at your house at the time specified on the warrant
  • Warrant is signed by a judge or justice of the peace
  • Police only search for the items in places where they could actually be found. For example, they cannot search for a stolen 36” TV in your jewelry box.

The police can enter your home even over your objection if a 911 call is made from your address. If the police are legally searching for evidence and they discover something that may be evidence of a different crime, they can seize it. If you believe that you are being searched illegally you should tell the officer that you object to the search. Do not obstruct the search. You also have the right to file a complaint against that officer.

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5. What if I am the victim of, or witness to a crime?

If you are the victim of a crime, seek safety immediately. As soon as possible, write down as many details as you can recall, including description of suspect, vehicle, licence plate #. If you have witnessed a crime, call the police. Stay with the victim and wait for the police to arrive. Inform the officer that you are a witness and provide as much information as you can.

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6. What if I see a police officer abusing their position?

As long as you don’t interfere with the officer, you have the right to bear witness. Get as much information as possible. Take notes, including time, date and location. Try to get photos or video coverage. You don’t have to surrender your notes, photos or video to an officer. These are your private property and may be very important should the individual decide to file a complaint against the officer.

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7. What if I have an especially positive experience with the police?

You can contact COPKA so that we can pass on the good news through our network of members, the media, and our meetings with the OPP. You can also write a letter to the editor of your local paper and describe your experience.

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