The legislative powers of the police to stop individuals

The function of the police, detailed in the Police Act (Politiloven) includes preventive responsibilities to ensure public order. Chapter 73 (§§793-800) of The Administration of Justice Act (Retsplejeloven) authorises them to stop and search citizens where they have a “reasonable reason for suspicion” that the citizen has violated a law which is subject to public prosecution. It is not specified “reasonable reason for suspicion”, but it can include suspicious behaviour, possession of items associated with crime and stops of vehicles. There is a legal distinction between searching a vehicle, residence or other premises and bags and the search of a person and their clothing. According to the law, this is referred to as bodily intervention (Retsplejeloven, Chapter 72, §§792-792f). This chapter also distinguishes between the inspection of the body’s exterior and the examination of the body’s interior. Furthermore, traffic legislation gives authority to stop and search a driver as well as a vehicle, to check the registration or to collect saliva samples if there is a suspicion of alcohol or drugs in the blood. Since 2004, it has been possible for the police to establish visitation (or search) zones in certain areas for a specified period of time (see Politiloven §6 and the comments to Law no. 159, section, 2003-04). These zones are authorised by the chief of police, though for a reasonable purpose and, for example, to violent prevent crime. In these zones, the police have authority to make random searches without “reasonable reason for suspicion”. They can search the body, people’s belongings, vehicles and other objects in the search for weapons and explosives. The principle of proportionality is an overarching legal concept governing the use of police powers to ensure the fundamental freedom of the individual (see Retssikkerhedsloven, Chapters 2 and 3). According to Retssikkerhedsloven §2, the principle is described as: “enforcement measures may be used only if less restrictive measures are insufficient and if the intervention is commensurate with the purpose of the intervention”. There must be no discrepancy between, on the one hand, the interventions and the disadvantage to the citizen and, on the other hand, the considerations and objectives (for the investigation) that require the intervention.

The obligation to register stops

The police are obliged to record everything regarding general data capture and the processing of personal data in the Police Case Management System (Politiets Sagsstyringssystem, POLSAS). This also applies to stop and search occurrences. They record the time, place and circumstances in which the stop and search took place. POLSAS is a national database of police work and is an important digital tool for both the police and for citizens, if the citizens subsequently wishes to make a complaint about the stop and search.

Legislation procedures which protect citizens from police offences

Police officers need to address a violation of the law, otherwise they do not have the legal authority to stop and search (except within visitation zones—see above). When stopped, the citizen is only obliged to state his/her full name, date of birth and address (Retsplejeloven, §750). If s/he refuses to do so, s/he may receive a fine. The police cannot demand an explanation during the stop. Also, §752 says that the citizen must be aware of the charges, so s/he can consider whether or not to make a statement. The citizen must be informed of their rights and this is noted in the police report. Thus, this creates a record in case of possible prosecution or complaint.

There are different ways to complain:

  • about an arrest. This is defined as a dispositions complaint. The police will handle the case via either the National Police (Rigspolitiet) or the Public Prosecutor (Statsadvokaten);
  • about an officer’s behavior and unnecessary use of force. The Independent Police Prosecutor (Den uafhængige Politianklagemyndighed) will investigate it. The case can result in a warning or advice about the police officer’s conduct, unless there is a basis for criminal proceedings, in which case it is passed to the Public Prosecutor. If the prosecutor will not plea for trial, it is possible to pass the case to the Attorney General.
  • about police behavior in a traffic stop, this can be addressed to the Independent Police Prosecutor.

Retsplejeloven §§108-109 describes how the different agencies are organized in relation to complaints, while §§118-119 describes the authorities and powers of the Independent Public Prosecutor. Thus, in Denmark, in case of disposition complaints, the respective police district receives and processes the complainants while the remaining complaints are received and processed by an independent agency.


Annotated bibliography on Denmark