Use of Force by Police

Trained to use lethal force, but even police can make mistakes.

During 2014 and 2018 the NSW Police were involved in more than 57,000 incidents that officers regarded the use of force as necessary. However, the excessive use of force by police is a common complaint within the community.

While some may think, the police have a difficult job and sometimes things escalate quickly, what about people the police arrest that have done nothing wrong? People that have been falsely accused? A recent decision by the District Court of NSW highlights this.

Imagine you are at home, watching the television, about to head to bed. Two police officers come to your door, telling you that you are under arrest. The officers haven’t told you why you are under arrest. But one of the police officers has his baton drawn, saying he will use it to break the door down to perform the arrest if you won’t open the door.

After some discussion, you open the door, and one officer handcuffs your right wrist, while the other officer uses his baton and strikes your left wrist multiple times. On your way to their vehicle your partner, who called the police and said you assaulted her, tells the police she made it all up, but the officers ignore her, and take you to the Police Station.

Inside the Police Station, you still don’t know why you’ve been arrested, and it is only during the police interview that you discover the allegations made against you. Allegations that you say are completely false and made up. Allegations that you are eventually acquitted of. Sounds like a horror story, but this happened to Mr Scott Munro on a Tuesday night.

What does the law say regarding the use of force by Police?

Police have the power to use force when making an arrest. Part 18 of the Law Enforcement (Powers and Responsibilities) Act 2002 states that “A police officer or other person who exercises a power to arrest another person may use such force as is reasonably necessary to make the arrest or to prevent the escape of the person after arrest”. The keyword here is reasonably.

Police also have the authority to use force in a general capacity under the law. Part 18 of the Law Enforcement (Powers and Responsibilities) Act 2002 states “It is lawful for a police officer exercising a function under this Act or any other Act or law in relation to an individual or thing, and anyone helping the police officer, to use such force as is reasonably necessary to exercise the function”.

What kinds of force are police trained to do?

According to the Charles Stuart University Guide on policing, police where reasonable and necessary are trained to use the following kinds of force:

  • Handcuff; 
  • Baton strike;
  • Check drill;
  • Leg Sweep;
  • Take down;
  • Use of Taser; or
  • Discharge of Firearm.

Please bear in mind, that if you have come in contact with the police, cooperate, and if the police perform any illegal act, do not attempt to reconcile that on the street, but rather through the courts/litigation.

What did the Court find?

District Court Judge Levy found the evidence given by the two officers as unreliable, stating “I had significant reservations about the reliability of important aspects of the evidence of Senior Constable Nolan… I found him to be an unconvincing witness”. Judge Levy was “left with the impression that initial aspects of his [Senior Constable Nolan’s] evidence should be seen to be unreliable”. Regarding the other officer who attended Mr Munro’s residence, Senior Constable Ward, Judge Levy stated “I had doubts about the reliability of her evidence”.

For the understandable bewilderment and outrage at his wrongful arrest, assault, battery and false imprisonment the District Court awarded Mr Munro the amount of $38,206.


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