Friday, February 13, 2009

Stop And Search By Police Officers

This article serves as an advice to members of public due to recent incidents of rising cases of bogus police officers and police officers abusing their powers while in the performance of their duties.

Many people thought that police officers have unlimited power of search and arrest. This is not true. While section 3 of the Police Act 1967 appeared to give police officers the authority to search and to arrest where necessary to prevent and detect crime, this power is however, subjected to the principle of “legality”. That is, police officers could be made liable for damages for their unlawful search and arrest of citizens in the street and in premises. Article 8 of the Federal Constitution protects the citizens from arbitrary power of the police and police officers are subjected to the Rule of Law and this implies that all powers must be specifically conferred.

Both the Police and the Criminal Procedure Code do not provide specific powers to permit random stop and search of persons without an arrest. We used to hear of “Ops Sapu” or “Ops Bersih” where police officers during these operations went around inspecting entertainment joints in the cities to randomly check for patrons for dangerous drugs or incriminating items such as for dangerous weapons. Such actions by the police could be unlawful because most often the search were very arbitrary exercised. If random checks be made, owners of entertainment joints should lodge police report and complain the matter to the relevant authorities. Sometimes foreign patrons and guests who were genuine customers in the entertainment joints were arrested and without any basis being accused or suspected of being involved in unhealthy activities.

However, there are provisions in the law that allows police officers to stop and search vehicles suspected to have been used in committing a criminal offence. The Police Act 1967 allows police officers to seize vehicles for the purpose of inspecting the vehicles for incriminating goods and after search has been completed, the vehicles must be returned to its rightful owner as soon as possible. These police officers were not to detain the seized vehicles without a court order for period longer than that permitted by the Police Act 1967 itself.

Demand the Identification of the Search and Arrest Officer

The problem is when being stopped and searched while driving of while walking in the streets, how one would know that the person who stopped him either in uniform or otherwise is or not a police officer? The person in police uniform may not necessarily be a policeman. Therefore, whether the person been in police uniform or not, the best thing to do when stopped, is to ask for the Warrant Card of the person who stopped and searched you. A Warrant Card is in actual fact an identity card of a policeman which must have his photograph, name and the Police Force Number of the person. Policemen do not have civilian identity cards and because upon joining the Force their civilian identity cards have to be seized by the authorities.

So, when the person who claims himself as a police officer could not produce his Warrant Card then it is likelihood that he is not a police officer. When faced with this situation, do not follow the person’s instructions. If he produces a Warrant Card, it is also wise not only to look, but, to read the contents of the Warrant Card carefully before submitting to his instructions. Even that, it would be a good idea to counter check with the nearest police station the identification of the person who claimed himself to be an officer.

Precautionary Measures During Search & Arrest

When searched by police officers as to body and premises, it is also advisable to get someone as witnesses of the search. The law requires that a female has to be searched by a female and if a male policeman makes a bodily search on a female, complaints could be made for assault and battery. Besides witnesses, it would be helpful if you have a camera and a recorder with you to record the search. The camera could be useful to take photographs of officers using excessive force on the person searched or to deter being fixed up with incriminating materials or dangerous drugs by the officers conducting the search. In recent years there was an increase in cases of bogus policemen and police officers abusing their powers and this precaution is necessary because not all police officers are honest or sincere in their work.

The law also does not allow excessive use of force on persons when conduct search and arrest. If this happened, it would be wise to lodge a police report and if injured it is also wise to request a policeman to escort you to the government hospital or government clinic for medical check-up and treatment. As a precaution against unwarranted allegation of your injuries as being self-inflicted you should avoid going alone to government hospital or government clinic if no police escort is made available.

The police officer who conducted the search has no right to command a person stopped and searched to go to police station with him without disclosing that he was placed under arrest and without informing the reasons of the arrest. As a precaution, do no go to police station alone and if you could not get someone to follow you, it is advisable that you make phone calls to your friends or lawyers that you were under arrest. Also, do not forget to disclose in your phone calls the names of the officers who arrested you and the vehicle registration plate number and proper description of vehicle used to bring you to police station. If you have not been informed the purpose and reasons of your arrest, lodge a police report immediately or get someone to lodge a police report on your behalf first, so that the matter could be investigated at the earliest opportunity.

After being placed under arrest, make sure that the police officer conducting the arrest not to bring you anywhere, except to the nearest police station. If he makes a detour, you need to warn him that you will make a complaint against him to his senior officers. It may also work if you just tell him or lie to him that some of his senior officers are your friends or relatives. By telling that you know some senior government servants or politicians can also be a threat to the officer.

If a search is made on premises, such powers were normally given to police officers with the rank of inspectors and above and most often these categories of officers may not be required by law to be armed with a search or arrest warrant. However, there are cases such as search for dangerous drugs allows search of premises be conducted by police officers with the rank of sergeant and be armed with search warrant. Police officers conducting search can only break-in into the premises to conduct search after access to get in is not given.

If the officer although armed with a warrant of which he is required to do so, just breaks in without first identifying himself and producing his warrant, he can be assaulted and be forced not to enter the premises. This also applies to all unwelcome intruders. Even if the officer is in police uniform and had properly identified himself but had told the premise owner that he had left his search or arrest warrant at home, he could also be not allowed to enter the premises to conduct search and arrest and could be accordingly be assaulted or chased out for trespass. If he breaks any door or window to get in, the officer could be charged for a criminal offence of house breaking.

Right of Silence

After being placed under arrest, you have a right to keep silent and not to speak anything that could incriminate or implicate you with an alleged offence. This is because what ever thing you say could be a basis for the police to charge you and could also be given as evidence against you. The best thing is try to get a lawyer immediately to protect your interest. It would be a bit too late to protect your interest if you get a lawyer only after being charged in court. Lawyers should be engaged in the earliest opportunity. Do not sign any document asked by police officers unless you are sure of the contents. Police officers may just ask you to sign a prepared statement in which statement in the document therein may not contain what you have related to them. This was an unlawful and short-cut procedure normally taken by some police officers to fit in the evidence of the case against you.

While under questioning, insists an interpreter in the language that you are comfortable with and if the officer threatened you for refusing to sign the statement, you may threaten him back and tell him that you have a right to lodge a police report against him or to complain the matter to the magistrates.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

YB. Voon,
Thank you for your timely advice and tips. Nowadays, it seem that the Police are really abusing their power with immunity!