Page last updated at 17:45 GMT, Tuesday, 9 February 2010
Police Question & Answer: Knowing your rights
Chief Inspector Jason Wells
Chief Inspector Jason Wells is in charge of local policing in Telford

The police are funded by all of us, through council tax, to uphold the law and prevent crime.

But how many of us know our rights or take an interest in local policing?

They are at the forefront of preserving society, but what happens if we find ourselves in trouble with the police?

BBC Shropshire's Andy Giddings spoke to Chief Inspector Jason Wells, the head of local policing in Telford, to consider some common scenarios and dispel some myths.


Can I be pulled over if you're eating or drinking behind the wheel?

Chief Inspector Jason Wells: "You may be driving without due care and attention. The standard is really whether or not a competent and careful driver would feel that the standard of driving fell below that standard.

"It's about being in safe control of your vehicle while you're driving"

Am I be obliged to pull over straight away if a police car flashes it's lights at me ?

"The road traffic act says that members of the public should stop for a police officer in uniform, so if a marked car comes up behind you and switches on it's blue lights and starts flashing for you to pull over, then you should find a safe place to pull over and stop and speak to the officers

"There are times when people are concerned about whether or not this is a genuine police car and what I would say is if you really did have those serious concerns then drive slowly and appropriately to somewhere that's either well lit or populated such as a garage, somewhere where there is other people.

"Don't try to accelerate away from the police."

What if it's an unmarked police car ?

"Clearly there are difficulties where officers aren't in uniform or where they're in unmarked cars.

"Many of them now have insignia, police markers that fit on the front of the dashboard, or will go behind the visor to try to show that it's a police car.

But what will happen is if a vehicle doesn't stop for an unmarked car, that unmarked car would usually call for a marked car to come and assist so that it becomes much clearer."


Can a police officer ask me to stop taking photos?

"I can certainly ask you to stop taking photographs. And the difficulty is that you may take pictures that include evidence that may be beneficial to the inquiry.

So an officer would potentially have a power to seize that camera as part of the evidence to prevent any evidence being concealed, lost, altered, damaged or destroyed."

Police officer
The Policing and Crime Act 2009 aims to make the police more accountable

Can a police officer order me to destroy a photo I've taken?

"There's various pieces of legislation including the terrorism act, whereby it is an offence for people to take photographs of police officers or members of the armed forces or members of the intelligence services or any item that could be construed as being useful for somebody who's preparing for an act of terrorism."

At a crime scene

Are police officers obliged to tell me what they are doing ?

"They are not necessarily obliged to tell you. It all depends on context. Many of the operations that we do can be of a very serious nature, they can be covert operations.

"But, I would expect a police officer to be courteous and polite and to assist them as best they can in answering their question."

Are police officers allowed to deliberately mislead or lie to you?

"Again it depends on context. If you've got a covert operation that's ongoing and somebody is to come up and say, 'are you a police officer?' And there was a risk of the operation being completely blown as a result of it, then I would suspect that the officer would say 'no I'm not a police officer'.

"But generally all police officers will do their best to help the public in answering any questions that they've got".

If there are police officers' vehicles in your way, can you ask them to move?

"Yes of course you can. Policing is about working with the community. We don't want to upset people, we don't want to cause any deliberate inconvenience."

Cooperating with the police

Do I have to answer a police officers questions?

"You don't have to cooperate with me in any way. You don't have to say anything. You can remain completely silent.

"We would always look for members of the public to assist us in whatever it is that we're doing, whether or not it's investigating an offence or making enquiries about something that's gone on. Or just trying to understand what the local issues are within the community.

"But if you don't want to speak to us, you don't have to in any shape way or form."

Can I be arrested for failing to cooperate with an investigation ?

"Again it depends on the context... There are certain pieces of legislation, particularly around the harbouring of offenders inside your property and if you were to lie to the police then you may be attempting to pervert the course of justice. It just depends on the context of the situation."

Do I have to give my name, address and details like that?

"If you were suspected of committing an offence and you refused to give your details, then an officer could, depending on the circumstances, arrest you - yes"

Does a police officer have to give you their name and ID if asked?

"Yes. If you were to ask me for my name and the station that I work. I can also give you an individual collar number

What powers have the police got to stop and search me?

"I could stop you in the street under stop-and-search powers. And if that was the case, what I'd expect an officer to do is explain to you what the grounds of that search is, what the object of the search is.

"They need to identify themselves. If they're in uniform that should be fairly straightforward to identify them. But if they're in plain clothes then to show you their warrant card and also explain which police station they come from.

"They also need to explain to you that you are being detained for the purposes of a search and your entitlement to have a copy of a search record. There are also other pieces of legislation around stop-and-search for potentially violent situations.

"There are occasions where officers can be authorised to stop and search people for weapons and ask them to remove face coverings, but also under the terrorism act there are times when a very serious officer can authorise the stopping and searching of people in order to prevent acts of terrorism"

Do you need to have specific grounds for wanting to search people?

"In terrorist cases, an officer would have an opportunity to stop and search in order to prevent acts of terrorism - they wouldn't necessarily need any grounds.

"In normal day-to-day situations officers will need grounds to search a member of the public."

Being arrested

What should happen when a police officer arrests me?

"What I should do is tell you I'm putting you under arrest. I should tell you what you're under arrest for.

"And I should caution you that you don't have to say anything but it may harm your defence if you do not mention when questioned, something which you later rely on in court. And anything you do say may be given in evidence."

Under what circumstances would you be able to physically restrain me?

"The law regarding the use of force by the police is firstly under common law, which is if you have an honest-held belief that you or another is in imminent danger, then you may use such force that is reasonable and necessary to avert that danger.

"The criminal law act then expands on that, saying a person may use such force that is reasonable in the circumstances in the prevention of crime or in effecting or assisting in the lawful arrest of offenders or suspected offenders or of persons unlawfully at large."

Myth or fact?

Are police officers obliged to carry a watch with them and tell you the time when asked?

"No, but generally I wear a watch and would be more than happy to help."

Can you stop a hackney carriage that isn't carrying a bale of hay?

"I understand that under some legislation that was introduced around 1870 it was an offence for a hackney carriage not to have a bale of hay with which to feed the horses. That law wasn't repealed until 1976, so technically anyone with a hackney carriage prior to that date should have had a bale of hay with them."

Can I shout "relief" in the street and then legally relieve myself without the risk of being arrested?


Is it true that a pregnant woman can ask to relieve herself in a police officers helmet?

"No. And I haven't been asked.

"I've been asked for some fairly obscure things in my police service, but I've never been asked by a pregnant lady if she can relieve herself in my helmet."

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