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How much force can Police Officers use during an arrest?

Western Australian Police Uniform and vehicle

The Corruption and Crime Commission (CCC) has recently released the results of its investigation into an incident where a police officer used excessive force arresting a young man in a Northbridge car park in Perth, in November 2019. The man, who is only known as Mr A, was held by the police officer in a rear chokehold.

The pressure of Mr A’s body against the police officer was enough to activate the officer’s body camera. Footage from the incident apparently shows Mr A suddenly falling forward suggesting that, because he did nothing to break his own fall, he may have lost consciousness. Mr A suffered cuts, scratches, a black eye and other bruising.

While the CCC considered that the arrest of Mr A was not unlawful, it was of the view that the force used during the arrest was excessive.

So what is excessive force?

Generally WA Police are expected to follow the Police Force Regulations Act 1979 when acting in the line of duty.  Regulation 609 states: 

Unlawful arrest and unnecessary force

                        A member shall not —

            (a)       make any unlawful arrest; or

            (b)       use any unnecessary force on any prisoner or other person with whom the member may be brought into contact in the performance of his or her duty.

Furthermore various sections of the Criminal Code WA and the Criminal Investigation Act WA provide that it is lawful for a police officer engaged in an arrest to use such force as may be reasonably necessary to overcome any force used by an offender in resisting an arrest.

It is also lawful for a police officer to use any force against any person that is reasonably necessary to use in the circumstances to exercise the power of arrest, and also to overcome any resistance to exercising the power of arrest that is offered, or that is reasonably suspected will be offered by the offender.

In the case of Mr A’s arrest, police conducted their own investigation and considered that there was a breach of the police manual but concluded the force used was not excessive. However, after examining graphic vision filmed by one of Mr A’s companions, CCTV footage and vision captured from a police body-worn camera, the CCC determined differently.

The rear chokehold is a Jujutsu / Judo technique. It has two variations. In one version, the attacker's arm encircles the opponent's neck and then grabs their own biceps on the other arm.  In the second version, the attacker clasps their hands together instead after encircling the opponent's neck. Some recent studies have shown that the rear chokehold takes an average of 8.9 seconds to render an opponent unconscious regardless of the grip that is used.

The use of ‘chokeholds’

There have long been calls to stop police from using chokeholds of any kind. These calls have become much louder since the killing of George Floyd, and in the United States there is currently legislation before the Senate which, if passed, will banish them completely across the entire nation.

WA Police say that the ‘chokehold is not taught to officers,’ but in some states, such as Queensland and New South Wales, police officers are permitted to use lateral vascular neck restraints (LVNR) in particular situations, such as: when an incident is assessed as high risk and there is an immediate necessity to apply the restraint; or when an officer is acting or aiding in self-defence. LVNRs cannot be used on the elderly, children, pregnant women, people with disabilities or people with an obvious or suspected neck injury.

While it is not abundantly clear what determines ‘excessive force’ during an arrest, there appears to be a distinct relationship between the force a police officer may be permitted to use, and the behaviour of the person being arrested — whether the person is obstructing an officer in the line of duty, defying arrest, or being physically violent.

During the arrest of Mr A, the CCC determined that the force was excessive because Mr A, “did not try to escape. He was not resisting arrest. He was not threatening.”

What to do if you have a complaint about police?

If you think a police officer has used unnecessary force during arrest you can make a complaint through the Police Complaints Unit (PCU). If a complaint involves serious allegations it may be referred to the Corruption and Crime Commission.

Contact Us

If you are facing criminal charges and need representation from an experienced Criminal Lawyer, contact the Andrew Williams Criminal Law Offices without delay on (08) 9278 2575 or send an enquiry online.

PLEASE NOTE: The material in this blog post is for informational use only and should not be construed as legal advice. For answers to your questions regarding this or other topics, please contact a professional legal representative.

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