Activist Rights

Use of Force

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The police are only entitled to use “reasonable force” and may only use force when it is lawfully justified. The police use of force may be unlawful if it is found to be “excessive”.

Section 462A of the Crimes Act1958 (Vic) provides as follows:

“462A. A person may use such force not disproportionate to the objective as he believes on reasonable grounds to be necessary to prevent the commission, continuance or completion of an indictable offence or to effect or assist in effecting the lawful arrest of a person committing or suspected of committing any offence.”

This section is relevant to all members of the public (including Victoria Police members).

Sections 459 and 459A of the Crimes Act1958 (Vic) also confer special powers of arrest, entry and search upon members of the Victoria Police which are more extensive than the powers of ordinary members of the public and, in particular, the powers of arrest conferred upon members of the public by section 458 of that Act.

Police use of force is often justified under the common law principle that police have a duty to prevent a breach or a threatened ”breach of the peace”.

Ultimately, what constitutes “reasonable force” is decided by the courts when police action is challenged.

The use of force requires police to hold a belief on reasonable grounds that a person is committing or is about to commit an offence.

On the other hand, search powers can be used when police hold a reasonable suspicion that the person has a regulated item (like weapons or drugs).

This means that a question remained about whether police can use force to conduct searches.

This question has been resolved under the Drugs Act (section 60 D) – which authorises police to use force to conduct searches.

Section 17 A of the Graffiti Act permits an authorised Transport Officer to use force to seize a graffiti item.

The Control of Weapons Act authorises force when a police officer has a warrant (a

In practical terms however, refusal to permit a search under the Control of Weapons or Graffiti Acts can lead to a charge of hinder or obstruct police which provides the power of arrest, which then provides police with the power to use force.

In addition to semi-automatic firearms, batons, handcuffs and capsicum-spray, Victoria police also have a number of crowd controlling weapons available.

These include:

  • large scale tear-gas and capsicum-spray canisters
  • shields
  • horses
  • the ‘VKS Pepperball’ – firearm that shoots blunt-force pellets or dye markers to brand people for arrest
  • stinger grenades which release 32-callibre rubber pellets at waist height
  • LRAD sound cannons
  • and flash/noise distraction devices

In some countries where these weapons have been deployed people have suffered serious injuries and there has been a report of at least one death.

The use of force on a crowds involves many, unresolved legal issues. For example, lawyers argue that it is unlawful for police to us OC spray or other weapons on non-violent protesters and yet police regularly use these types of force against non-violent protesters and even bystanders.

Police complaints on these issues are routinely found to be ‘unsubstantiated’ by police investigators – and IBAC generally refuses to resolve them. We encourage people in these circumstances to consider civil action in assault and battery against the police.

Also see Complaints against the police.

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