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Criminal & traffic law

Being arrested or detained (held) by the police: Their powers and your rights

Use of force in making an arrest

Can the police use force in making an arrest?

Crimes Act 1961, ss 39, 40

When they’re making an arrest, the police can use reasonable force to overcome force used by the person to resist arrest. They can only use the least amount of force necessary in the situation.

The police can also use reasonable force to prevent someone trying to avoid arrest or to escape after arrest.

What can I do if the police use unnecessary force against me?

Crimes Act 1961, s 62

If you believe the police have used inappropriate or excessive force against you, you can:

  • make a criminal complaint to the police – this could result in the police officer concerned being charged with assault or some other crime
  • bring a civil case against the police for damages (compensation)
  • complain to the police and ask them to do an internal police investigation. This could result in disciplinary charges being laid against the relevant police officer
  • complain to the Independent Police Conduct Authority, see “Complaints about the police” in this chapter.

If the police use excessive force against you, this may mean that the arrest was unreasonable and that your rights have been breached. This applies even if the police are exercising power under a warrant, see “When the police arrest or detain you: Your rights and their duties” in this chapter.

The court may rule that any evidence obtained as a consequence of the arrest is inadmissible.

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Police powers

Where to go for more support

Community Law


The Community Law website contains legal information, education, and law reform resources about the police. Your local Community Law Centre can provide free initial legal advice about any issue relating to the police.

YouthLaw Aotearoa


Phone: 0800 UTHLAW (0800 884 529)
Email: nzyouthlaw@gmail.com

YouthLaw provides free legal advice for young people throughout New Zealand. The YouthLaw website provides great information for young people about the law.

“You and the police” (Law Society pamphlet)

This pamphlet has information about what to do when being questioned or arrested by the police. You can access the pamphlet online at:

You can also order hardcopies from:

Phone: (04) 472 7837
Email: pamphlets@lawsociety.org.nz

Independent Police Conduct Authority (IPCA)


Phone: 0800 503 728
Email: info@ipca.govt.nz

The IPCA receives and investigates complaints against the police. A complaint form is available online.

Legal Aid


The Ministry of Justice website has a range of information about Legal Aid.

It also has information about the Police Detention Legal Assistance Scheme (free legal help when someone is being held, arrested or questioned by the police) – go to:

You can also order hard copies of Ministry of Justice pamphlets from:

Phone: 0800 587 847
Email: publications@justice.govt.nz

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