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How do police officers enforce the law?

While laws are made to inform people of what they can and cannot do, it is also necessary to ensure those laws are being obeyed. The Queensland Police Service is the primary law enforcement agency for the state of Queensland. By an Act of Parliament (Police Service Administration Act 1990 (Qld)), police officers are required to:

  • Preserve peace and good order
  • Protect the Queensland community
  • Prevent and detect crime;
  • Uphold the law;
  • Administer the law fairly and efficiently;
  • Bring offenders to justice.

In order to uphold and administer the law it is necessary for an officer to have an understanding of their powers under the law. To enable police officers to carry out their duties, laws have been created that provide police officers with powers which they can exercise in certain circumstances. These are described in the Police Powers and Responsibilities Act 2000(Qld).(PDF)

Some of these powers allow an officer to:

  • Invade a person's privacy e.g. execution of a search warrant on a person’s home
  • Deprive a person of their liberty e.g. arresting a person for an offence
  • Use force against an individual or property e.g. to affect an arrest
  • Seize property e.g. property suspected of being unlawfully obtained
  • Take a DNA sample from a person

Because of the authority society entrusts in police, it is important that they operate within the law. An officer needs to know what they can or cannot legally do. In determining the legality of police action, the courts expect strict compliance by officers in the exercise of their powers. For every situation an officer responds to they will need to know what laws will assist or allow them to resolve the matter.

Therefore, to carry out their duty a police officer needs to:

  • Know the laws that they are required to enforce
  • Be able to interpret and understand them
  • Comply with them.

Within Government Departments, including the police service, enacted laws are supported by policies and procedures. For the QPS such policies and procedures are contained within the Operational Procedures Manual (OPM) and Traffic Manual. The aim of the OPM is to provide guidance and instructions in all aspects of operational policing. Officers are to comply with the contents of the manual so that their duties are discharged lawfully, ethically and efficiently. In your training you will have the opportunity to learn the law and the relevant OPM and be able to apply it to most policing situations.

An officer enforces the law by taking some form of action against some individual. By conducting roadside breath testing for instance the officer is enforcing the provisions of the Transport Operations (Road Use Management) Act 1995 (Qld). Where offences are being committed, the officer can enforce the law by bringing offenders before a court. For a drink driving offence they do this either by arresting an offender, issuing a Notice to Appear, or issuing a complaint and summons. The circumstances and conditions under which an officer arrests or issues a Notice to Appear are covered under the Police Powers and Responsibilities Act 2000 (Qld)(PDF). For offences, such as failing to wear a seat belt, police officers enforce the law through the issue of an infringement notice.

In order to investigate an offence or determine if laws are being complied with, an officer needs to have the power (authority) to do certain things and also ask others to do certain things. For example to determine whether a driver is complying with the law by not driving whilst affected by alcohol, an officer needs to be able to direct a driver to stop their vehicle so that they may administer a road side breath test. So, to enable police officers to carry out this function, legislation is enacted not only detailing offences, but detailing how the legislation is to be administered and enforced.

The power to require the driver to stop for a roadside breath test is contained under section 60 of Police Powers and Responsibilities Act 2000 (Qld). This legislation details the powers and responsibilities of a police officer in carrying out their duty. The authority for the officer to direct the driver of a motor vehicle to supply a specimen of breath for a road side breath test is contained under section 80 of Transport Operations (Road Use Management) Act 1995 (Qld).

It is extremely important that officers know their powers, as they are often called upon to make quick decisions in responding to and resolving volatile situations. The Recruit Training Program will focus on providing you with the underpinning knowledge and skills in the aspects of policing that will be relevant to your role as a First Year Constable (FYC).