PSOs can

  • Ask for your name and address
  • Search you and your bags
  • Take your stuff if it’s illegal or evidence of a crime
  • Fine or arrest you
  • Order you to leave

PSOs can’t

  • Take your stuff if it’s not illegal and they don’t need it for evidence
  • Take your phone away if they don’t need it for evidence
  • Force you to delete data from your phone
  • Say racist or abusive things
  • Use unnecessary force
  • Use their powers outside a train station or connected area

On this page

About PSOs

What do they look like?

police-badge-sml  pso-vest-sml

  • They look a lot like police
  • They have a badge
  • They usually wear a uniform with hi-viz
  • They have “Protective Services” written on their vest

 Where are they?

  • Trains
  • Train stations
  • Cark parks, bus stops and taxi ranks surrounding a train station
  • Roads leading into or out of a train station
  • Sometimes at court houses and Parliament House

What do they carry?

  • Gun
  • Pepper spray
  • Handcuffs
  • Batons

Giving your details

When can PSOs ask for my details?

If you are at a train station or near a train station, PSOs can ask you for your name and address if they think:

  • You’ve broken the law
  • You’re about to break the law
  • You’ve broken public transport or graffiti laws, like travelling without a ticket or carrying a spray can on a train

PSOs can also ask for your date of birth or proof of age if you are at or near a train station and they suspect you are drinking underage.

Do I need to give them my name and address?

You must give a PSO your name and address if they have a lawful reason to ask you. If you refuse, you can be charged in court and you may end up with a criminal record. Even if you’re not sure the PSO had a good reason to ask you for your details, you should still cooperate at the time and then make a complaint about it later.

What if I don’t have ID or I’m homeless?

If you don’t have ID or a fixed address to give to a PSO, then they might hold you until they can confirm who you are and where you live. If you don’t have proof of identity or an address, then:

  • Give them the details of a friend, relative or youth worker they can call to confirm your identity
  • Show them Centrelink or bank documents or cards with your name on them
  • Show them a letter with your name and address on it

What if I give them false details, or I refuse?

It’s never a good idea to give false details or refuse to provide your name and address. Even if you’ve done nothing else wrong, you can be charged in court and you may end up with a criminal record.

Being searched

What can a PSO search me for?

If you are in a train station or a surrounding area, PSOs can search you without a warrant for:

  • Weapons
  • Spray cans or graffiti equipment like permanent markers if you are 14 or over

PSOs cannot search you just for drugs or alcohol but you can still get into trouble if they happen to find drugs or alcohol during a weapons or graffiti search.

Don’t they need a warrant?

No. A PSO can search you for items like weapons or spray cans without a warrant if they have reason to suspect you carrying those items illegally.

What if I’m under 18?

If you’re under 18, PSOs can still search you for weapons without a warrant. They can search you for graffiti equipment without a warrant if you are age 14 or over. PSOs also have special powers to search you if you are under 18 and they think you are chroming.

Although PSOs can take alcohol away from you if they see you carrying it, they cannot search you or your bags just to look for hidden alcohol. They must have another reason to search you.

If you are under 18, PSOs should have a parent or guardian present if they do a pat-down search but they don’t have to do this if it’s not practical in the circumstances.

In what kinds of situations can a PSO search me?

A PSO can search you if they have a good reason to suspect you are carrying illegal weapons or graffiti equipment.  Just being at a station where there is a lot of violent crime or graffiti around can be enough reason for a PSO to search you. If you are under 18, they also have special powers to search you if they think you are chroming.

Can they do pat-down searches?

Yes. That means a PSO can feel over or outside your clothes, ask you to empty your pockets or remove outer clothing, use a metal detector or ask you to show them any weapons they believe you are carrying. If possible, the PSO who performs the pat-down search should be the same sex as you but if no one of the same sex is nearby they can still do a pat-down search anyway.

Can they do strip searches?

No, PSOs can’t do strip searches. That means they can’t ask you to remove clothing other than jackets or outer clothing.

What if I refuse a search by a PSO?

If you refuse a search, you can be charged with hindering a PSO and end up with a criminal record. Even if you think a PSO had no good reason to search you, it’s better to cooperate then make a complaint about it later.

Taking my stuff

What items are illegal to carry on trains or at train stations?

  • Spray cans. If you’re on or near public transport, it’s illegal to carry spray cans or other things used to mark graffiti, like permanent markers, unless you need them for work.
  • Alcohol. It’s illegal to carry open containers of alcohol on public transport. If you are under 18, it’s also illegal to carry alcohol anywhere in public, including on a train or at a train station.
  • Weapons. It’s illegal to carry weapons, including kitchen knives, box-cutters or any kind of knife, anywhere in public without a good reason, like your job.

What if I need to carry knives, box-cutters or spray cans for work?

If you need to carry knives, box-cutters or spray cans for work, it’s a good idea to have a letter from your employer with you so you can show a PSO if they search you or find you carrying those items.

Can PSOs take my stuff off me?

Yes. A PSO can take your property if it’s illegal to have the item. This means they can take away drugs, illegal weapons or spray cans if they find them on you while you are on or near public transport. If you are under 18 and they catch you carrying alcohol, they can take it off you and tip it out.

Can they take my phone?

It’s not illegal to photograph or film an incident if it happens out in the open and in a public place. However, PSOs may want to take your phone away if police need the phone or any photos or videos on the phone as part of an investigation against you or somebody else. If you’re worried about having your phone taken away, you can offer to text or email them any videos or photos from your phone in front of them so they don’t need to take it off you.

Getting arrested

When can they arrest me?

A PSO can arrest you if you are on or near a train station and they believe you’ve broken the law or you’re about to break the law. They may also arrest you if you are drunk and they think you need to be locked up by police.

Can they use force to arrest me?

PSOs can use force to arrest you, but it must be reasonable force. That means they can only use as much force as is necessary to arrest you. If you resist or fight back, they are allowed to use more force against you.

Can they take me away if I’m not under arrest?

There are special situations where PSOs can hold you without arresting you. If they think you have a mental illness and you may harm yourself or others, then they might apprehend you and take you to a hospital. If you’re under 18 and they think you are chroming, then PSOs are allowed to apprehend you and then take you to a parent, guardian or a social service as soon as possible.

Can they lock me up?

No. If a PSO thinks you need to be taken into custody because you are drunk or your crime is too serious, they must call police to come and take you away.

Getting a fine

What can PSOs fine me for?

PSOs can issue fines for less serious offences and public transport offences, like carrying a spray can or travelling without a valid ticket.

What can I do if I get a fine?

If you get a fine and you have trouble paying or you don’t think you should have been fined, you should get more information about your options. If you are under 18 or you have an intellectual disability, you should get legal advice about your options. You should also get legal advice if you were experiencing homelessness, a mental illness or an addiction to drugs or alcohol at the time.

Being moved on

When can PSOs order me to move on?

If you are at or near a train station, a PSO can order you to move on from an area for up to 24 hours if they think:

  • You are a danger to other people’s safety
  • You may damage property
  • You are breaching the peace or likely to breach the peace

The law isn’t clear on what breaching the peace means but it usually means disturbing others in some way.

What if I am there to protest or take part in strike action?

PSOs cannot order you to move on for protesting or expressing your views about a particular issue, or if you are taking part in strike action.

What if I go back?

It’s illegal to return to a place you’ve been ordered to move on from, even if you left something behind or you need to go back there to get home. If you go back to the area before the time is up, then you might be fined or charged in court. Even if you think a PSO had no good reason to move you on, you should stay out of the area and make a complaint about it later.

Making a complaint

If you think you’ve been unfairly treated by PSOs, then you should get legal advice. It can be difficult to make a complaint, and complaining may have an impact on any court cases you have running against you at the moment.

Remember, there are free services available to help you.