I got an e-mail from a John Timmins – claiming to be a cop – who took exception to an article I’d written.
He believes that off-duty cops are just as powerful as on-duty cops. And that if a stranger in the street stops you and tells you they are a cop – with no identification or uniform to prove it – then you had better do what they say. Because if you don’t then you will be committing an offence under section 89(2) of the Police Act 1996 whereby you will be ‘resisting or wilfully obstructing a constable in the execution of his duty’.
There was no reasoning with him on this (thereby proving he was a cop), because when I tried to explain to him that this would put the public at risk from thugs, perverts and psychos pretending to be cops so they could detain anyone for whatever reason they wanted, he just rebuffed it.
It’s true that an off-duty, unwarranted cop can jump upon a mugger or an escaped convict if he sees one. We ALL can. But Mr. Timmins thinks such cops can also throw their weight around with the next door neighbour when a dog shits in their garden, which was the subject of the article he took issue with.
Well, no they cannot.
And I will remind Mr. Timmins that any police officer who attempts to detain or arrest a member of the public, simply for his own personal objectives (such as feuds with neighbours or a passing member of the public that gives them the stink-eye) is no longer considered to be acting within the execution of his duties:
1.1 Honesty and Integrity
According to this standard you must:
• act with honesty and integrity at all times
• use your position, police identification or warrant card for policing purposes only, and not to gain a personal advantage that could give the impression you are abusing your position
…A deliberate misuse by an off-duty police officer of the powers of a constable, for example, may mean that the officer is ‘acting as such’ by virtue of his or her assumption of the powers of the office. Such a situation might arise if an off-duty police officer arrested an innocent man with whom he had a personal dispute or took steps in order to prevent or frustrate an enquiry.
Crown Prosecution Service guidance on Misconduct in Public Office
Also refusal to show a warrant card when asked, when the officer is in plain clothes and has ample opportunity to do so, is also an offence:
…A UK police officer doesn’t always have to be in uniform but if they’re not wearing uniform they must show you their warrant card.
Finally, and most importantly, when a police officer is no longer acting within the execution of his duties, you are entitled to use reasonable force to resist arrest. Just as you are entitled to use self-defence to escape some plain clothed unwarranted loony in the street who’s just grabbed your arm and threatened to arrest you for dropping a crisp packet or a cigarette butt, when you don’t believe them to be a police officer.
It may be just my biased opinion that such swaggering off duty thugs deserve a well aimed punch in the face for their abuse of authority, but in the circumstances I cite, (as well as in the few case law examples listed below) you may well find a judge agreeing with you too…
Kenlin -v- Gardner; CA 1967
Two school boys, visiting premises for a lawful purpose, aroused suspicion of police officers on duty in plain clothes. One officer produced his warrant card, stated that they were police officers and asked why they were calling at the houses. The boys did not believe that they were police officers. One of them made as if to run away and one of the constables caught hold of his arm and cautioned him. There was then a struggle which involved the other boy.
Held: The officer’s action in catching hold of two schoolboys was performed not in the course of arresting them but for the purpose of detaining them for questioning and so was unlawful.
Bentley -v- Brudzinski; QBD 1982
A police officer arrived at a situation. Answering a signal from a colleague, he placed his hand on the shoulder of a man in order to attract his attention. The man hit the officer and was charged with assaulting the officer in the execution of his duty. He was acquitted.
Held: The acquittal was upheld. The officer who was assaulted was acting as agent of a colleague and, unknown to the officer assaulted, that first officer was acting outside the scope of his duty.
Collins -v- Wilcock; QBD 1984
The defendant appealed against her conviction for assaulting a police constable in the execution of his duty. He had sought to caution her with regard to activity as a prostitute. The 1959 Act gave no power to detain, but he took hold of her. She resisted, and injured him.
Held: There was no arrest, and no power implied or otherwise to arrest. The attempted restraint was therefore itself an unlawful assault, and she was entitled to resist, and the conviction was quashed. Battery involves a touching of the person with what is sometimes called hostile intent (as opposed to a friendly pat on the back) meaning any intentional physical contact which was not ‘generally acceptable in the ordinary conduct of daily life’. The tort of assault requires an overt act causing another to apprehend the infliction of immediate and unlawful force. False imprisonment is ‘the unlawful imposition of constraint on another’s freedom of movement from a particular place’.