Police powers to search

Police have certain powers to search you, and your place, property, or vehicle.

This information will help you to understand more about police powers to search.  Find out:

  • when police can carry out a search
  • what you should do if police want to search you or your property, and
  • how searches should be carried out.

There is also an Infosheet that provides more detail about police powers to search.

When can police carry out a search?

The police can search you, your property, house, vehicle or other places if:

  • they ask for your permission (consent) and you agree to let them carry out the search
  • they have a valid search warrant to conduct the search (with or without your consent), or
  • the law gives them the power to carry out a search without a warrant and without consent.

If you agree to the search, you can change your mind and withdraw your consent at any time. But the police might still have the right to continue the search without your consent.

When can the police search without a warrant and without consent?

Police can search you in a range of circumstances, including:

  • if you’re committing an offence
  • when you are under arrest or in police custody
  • to look for something relevant to an offence
  • to enforce a prohibited behaviour order
  • to ensure the security of a public place
  • to protected intoxicated or young people, or
  • to look for proceeds of crime.

Police can search your place in a range of circumstances, including:

  • to look for a suspect or person who has possession of something relevant to an offence
  • while you are under arrest for a serious offence, or
  • when they suspect offences have been committed involving family violence or prostitution.

Police can search your vehicle in a range of circumstances, including:

  • if it is relevant to an offence or contains something relevant to an offence
  • if you’re carrying someone who might be the victim of an offence
  • to prevent damage to your or someone else’s vehicle
  • to protect the safety of anyone in or near your vehicle
  • to look for a suspect
  • when you are under arrest for a serious offence
  • to ensure the security of a public place, or
  • to look for proceeds of crime.

What should I do if police want to carry out a search?

  • Ask the police what legal power they have to carry out the search (if you don't know or they have not already told you).
  • If you consent to the search, police can proceed with the search without relying on other powers
  • If you do not consent police can rely on their powers to search without your consent 
  • If police proceed with the search, stay calm, don’t resist, don't be abusive, and don't get in the way, even if police carry out the search without your consent.

How should a search be carried out?

For basic personal or strip searches, police must:

  • identify themselves
  • give the reason for the search
  • ask if you consent to the search
  • advise you they can still search you if you don’t consent, and that it’s an offence to obstruct the search
  • tell you why they need to remove any clothing and allow you to dress again as soon as possible after the search
  • have someone of the same sex as you (or a doctor) conduct the search for drug offences.

For searches of your place, police must:

  • identify themselves
  • tell you they intend to enter your place
  • give you the legal basis for the search (for example, under a search warrant)
  • ask if you consent, and
  • if you were not home during the search, leave a notice that your place has been searched, and a copy of any search warrant.

What force can police use during a search?

Police may use reasonable force against any person or any thing in order to carry out a search. This may include causing damage to property, where it is reasonable in order to carry out the search.

If you think police have used more force than was really needed to carry out a search, you can make a complaint about their actions. You should make notes of what happened, who was involved, and get photos or medical records to show any injuries or property damage caused by the search.




Reviewed: 16 February 2022


The information displayed on this page is provided for information purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. If you have a legal problem, you should see a lawyer. Legal Aid Western Australia aims to provide information that is accurate, however does not accept responsibility for any errors or omissions in the information provided on this page or incorporated into it by reference.