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The core duty of the police service is to protect the public by detecting and preventing crime. This duty is established in common law (precedents set by decisions of the courts) and the police have both common law and legislative powers to execute it.

The use of police powers must be compatible with human rights and equalities legislation. Police personnel are individually responsible for ensuring their use of their powers is lawful, proportionate and necessary.

Police powers can be grouped into three categories:

  • Powers to investigate crime. This includes a range of powers to collect evidence needed to identify suspects and support their fair and effective trial.
  • Powers to prevent crime. This includes a range of powers to maintain public order and prevent anti-social behaviour.
  • Powers to ‘dispose’ of criminal cases. These powers allow police officers to dispose of criminal cases outside of court or charge suspects so they can be prosecuted though the courts.

Other Library briefings about police powers

Documents to download

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