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Police Powers

NCJ Number
SASD BULLETIN Issue: 8 Dated: (February 1981) Pages: 9-19
A Morrison
Date Published
11 pages
In an address to a Scottish conference studying delinquency, a local police chief discusses public, legal, and judicial restraints on police powers in Scotland.
The public has always exhibited conflicting patterns of behavior regarding police powers by complaining that crime and disruption are increasing, while at the same time protesting police methods of handling suspects. A survey on public attitudes toward the London police published during the mid-1960's found that 64 percent of adults felt that police powers were about right, while the 6 percent who believed the police had too much authority were basing their views on incidents involving alleged abuse rather than on a desire to restrict that power. At present, police power to arrest and detain is only justified when exercised in relation to the threat, commission, or alleged commission of a specific offense. Scottish law gives the police authority to arrest without warrant only for street offenses such as drunkenness, indecency, prostitution, and threatening behavior. These custodial powers have proved totally ineffective in handling drunkenness but are necessary in other situations to maintain a minimum standard of order in the streets. Under United Kingdom law, powers to arrest without a warrant have only been afforded to police when it was in the public interest to do so. In this context, the suspected person's offense is justifiable, although the law might be revised to provide additional safeguards to the accused. Common law permits Scottish police to make arrests without warrant in cases of housebreaking, assault, and breaches of the peace. Case law and research studies have demonstrated that such arrests are usually justified. The current balance between police powers and public interest demands have generally resulted in just treatment for citizens and should be maintained without any changes. Increases in crime over the last decade cannot be blamed on educational, social, or law enforcement agencies but stem from basic problems in the home environment and the affluence of modern society. No references are cited.