“Can you make an immediate for me?” asked the controller over the radio. A male had sent messages to his girlfriend suggesting he was about to hurt himself and we needed to attended his flat to make sure he was alright. With life and death potentially hanging in the balance, we spared no time in getting to the location. Blue lights blazing a path through the night and the speedo reaching the higher end of the scale, we soon skidded to a halt outside the man’s apartment block and ran inside.
I used my best ‘police knock’ to draw the attention of anyone inside whilst my partner went around the outside to look in through the windows. We knew the male was inside but there was no sign of life. The control room advise us their last update suggested the male had placed a plastic bag over his head.
Still no answer at the door and so the sense of urgency takes over – I take a few steps back and deliver a forceful kick to the wooden door panel. Resolutely it stays still so I deliver another blow, then another and another. The gap begins to widen as the lock loses its grip of the plaster around the frame. Another kick and it’s nearly given way, one more and it slams home against the wall followed shortly after by myself and my partner as we storm the flat and locate the male.
This is a good example of our powers of entry being put into action. S. 17 of the Police & Criminal Evidence Act defines the conditions under which we can legally enter a premises. Saving life and limb is only one example of a range of very useful, commonly used powers that see us breaking down doors around the West Midlands on a daily basis.
Other than saving a person’s life, the principle reason that we’ll need to enter a premises is to affect the arrest of a wanted person. S. 17 gives clear indications of the circumstances under which we can do this. They are either that we have been granted a warrant to arrest that person or that the person is guilty of a serious crime, otherwise known as an ‘indictable‘ offence. We have to be able to state why we believed a person was at an address prior to using our powers to go in as otherwise the entry could be seen as unlawful.
In addition to these circumstances, S. 17 furthermore gives us the power to force an entry to apprehend a person who we are either pursuing or is unlawfully at large. Under these conditions, the offence that a person has committed is not relevant – only that rather than stay and talk to us a suspect has decided to take flight and seek refuge from the long arm of the law.
S. 17 also makes reference to some more specific conditions that have had attached their own powers of entry designed to help us achieve specific goals. We are given the power, for example, to force entry and arrest a person who we suspect might have been driving whilst unfit through drink or drugs or whom we think might be guilty of committing an offence under the Public Order Act.
Other laws may also grant us further powers of entry for example the Road Traffic Act which allows us to force entry after a serious traffic accident so that we can administer breath tests on a person who we think has fled the scene of the crash.
In my example, when we found the male he had not suffered any harm. We were able to arrange for him to be seen by medical staff and put in place the help he’d need for the future. Yes, his door will need repairing but this is a small price to pay for having ensured his safety and achieved the right result at the end of the day. This is what our powers of entry are there to ensure – that we are not hindered and can go about our duties to the greatest possible effect.