How do you distinguish between a constable and a police officer and what are their powers?

Getting into contact and maybe even a scuffle with a police officer or officer can happen to anyone – you don’t have to be an environmental activist who’s just stuck to the road. How do the powers of police officers and constables differ and how do you actually tell them apart?

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Chapters of the article

What is the difference between city and state police?

You may have been saying to yourself up until now that it’s “cop as cop”. But in fact, there are two types of police officers – that is, members of the state police (the Police of the Czech Republic) and officers who fall under the municipal police (called municipal police in cities). Although the powers of municipal police officers have expanded quite a bit in recent years, they still have slightly less authority than state police officers.

An example of different powers may be the power (or lack thereof) of officers to take action in connection with criminal offences. However, if they have information about such an offence, they pass the notification on so that the offence can be properly investigated.

Both police officers and municipal police officers are public officials, which on the one hand provides them with special protection, mainly enshrined in the Criminal Code, which, among other things, regulates the crime of assaulting a public official. At the same time, their conduct is also subject to greater emphasis and responsibility, which in turn corresponds to the facts of the offence of abuse of authority of a public official.

Do you believe there was an overstepping of police authority?

Have you had a conflict with a municipal or state police officer and believe the officer exceeded his or her authority? We will be happy to help you. Describe your situation to us and our experts will provide you with a legal opinion within 48 hours.

There are also differences between the founder and general status of the two services. The Police of the Czech Republic is an armed force of the state. Its main task is to prevent and detect crime and to protect the security of persons and property. The powers of the members of the Police of the Czech Republic are regulated by the Police Act.

The individual police departments are:

  • police Presidium
  • departments with national competence
  • regional police directorates
  • units established within regional directorates (there are 14 of them and their territorial districts coincide with the territorial districts of the 14 regions of the Czech Republic).

The most senior is the President of the Police, who recently became Martin Vondrášek. He reports directly to the Minister of the Interior. Below him work the deputy police presidents and the 14 directors of the regional directorates with responsibility for individual regions.

Themunicipal police (called municipal police in the case of towns) are established by individual municipalities. Its primary task is to oversee compliance with municipal ordinances, public order, parking in the city, and to deal with common altercations, citizens under the influence of alcohol, and so on. Officers have powers somewhat similar to those of the Czech Police, but they have fewer of them. They are governed by the Municipal Police Act.

Tip: We have devoted our next article to the call for an explanation and the process of such an explanation.

How to tell an officer from a police officer?

When you meet a uniformed man in black who asks you for identification, for example, you can usually tell at a glance whether he is a police officer or a constable. Although not all police officers wear the same uniform, you will typically see a man or woman on the street dressed in black, with a white or yellow POLICE sign on their back. The badge is usually worn on the uniform on the left side of the chest. It bears the inscription “Police of the Czech Republicand a six-digit number. On the left sleeve the policeman wears a patch with the state emblem and the inscription “Police”. The criminal police officer then wears the badge of the Criminal Police and Investigation Service in a holster together with his service card.

Tip: Many of us still remember to carry our ID card at all times and never go out without it. However, this has not been the case for a number of years and no one should be penalised for not showing their ID card. When and to whom do we have to show our ID cards? Find out in our next article.

A police officer should always prove his or her affiliation with the police if he or she makes any kind of representation to you. This is especially true for non-uniformed officers. In the case of an urgent intervention (for example, a threat to life or property), the officer need only announce “Police”, which should be followed up by proof of identity with a service uniform with number, or a service card, or possibly a badge of the Criminal Police Service.

Theuniform of municipal officers is also black according to the legislation, but the details vary from municipality to municipality. Thus, a Prague constable will look different from, for example, a constable from Rožnov pod Radhoštěm. The officer wears a municipal police badge with an identification number and the name of the municipality on the right side of the chest. On his left sleeve he wears a patch with the name of the municipality.

What are the general powers of a constable and a police officer?

First of all, it should be emphasized that both police officers and constables are only allowed to do what the law expressly permits them to do. This is the basic framework of your potential interaction with the police.

Both police officers and constables are generally authorised to carry out so-called acts and interventions. While an act is the securing of certain obligations without the use of force(summoning a person togive an explanation, establishing a person’s identity, etc.), an intervention is an act that directly enforces a legal obligation or directly protects rights by using force or the threat of force (for example, the use of handcuffs).

If a police officer or constable intervenes against you, he or she should first of all prove his or her affiliation to the (municipal) police, and before carrying out the intervention, he or she should use the call “In the name of the law” and also inform you of the legal grounds for it. If the action (intervention) involves interference with a person’s rights or freedoms, you must be advised of your rights and obligations. If circumstances prevent this, then, exceptionally, you may be given this information afterwards.

Both the police officer and the constable may ask you for help and you as a citizen are obliged to provide it. Everyone is required by law to obey a summons, instruction or request from a police officer without undue delay. An exception applies if the law allows (or requires) you to do otherwise. For example, a police officer can generally ask you to give an explanation, but you have the right to refuse in certain circumstances – in which case the officer cannot force you to give an explanation.

Tip: Have you received a summons to explain yourself to the police? Do you not know exactly what it is about and do you think you will make yourself more difficult during the questioning? Don’t leave anything to chance and consult an Accessible Lawyer beforehand.

If you refuse to obey a police officer’s summons (without the legal right to do so), you could be fined for the offence of disobeying a public summons.

Below are some of the powers that officers and police officers have. However, it always depends on the particular situation in which the powers can be used. It is true that the powers (rights) of the municipal police are narrower than those of the state police.

For example, the right to:

  • to produce a person,
  • to prohibit entry to specified places,
  • open a flat or other enclosed space,
  • seize or provisionally seize an object,
  • handcuff a person,
  • detain a person (in this respect, the Police of the Czech Republic has broader powers, which may detain a person for up to 24 hours; the officer may only bring the person to the police),
  • use coercive means, a dog or a service weapon,
  • make audio, visual or other recordings from places open to the public,
  • deal with traffic offences (who has the authority to deal with a particular offence depends on the type of offence),
  • to investigate and clarify a traffic accident (here the powers are conferred by law only to the Police of the Czech Republic),
  • to measure the speed of vehicles on roads (this authority belongs primarily to the Police of the Czech Republic, the role of the municipal police is only supportive).

Tip: We have discussed individual police actions (such as identification of a person, detention, search) and their course according to the law in a separate article.

What is a police officer not allowed to do?

Since he may only do what is permitted by law, we could infer that he may not do anything that is not permitted by law. But let us at least mention a few things that may seem obvious to some, but which some of us have nevertheless encountered.

You are not allowed to be a police officer or a constable:

  • Prohibit you from making an audio or video recording.
  • Legitimize you for absolutely no reason.
  • Take actions or interventions that he or she has the legal right to take, but only in certain circumstances that have not now arisen (e.g. a body search).
  • Request a search of your luggage, car interior or luggage without justification.
  • Be rude, rude or ironic or even swear at you.
  • To test you on regulations. In the event of a traffic violation or other violation of the law, he or she should tell you what you have done.

It probably depends on the extent of the violation whether, in such a case, you prefer to pretend that everything is fine and “do nothing” or speak up. While the police officer’s pointed question, “So, Mr. Driver, do you know what you did?” as a test of the law, you’ll probably pass it without a problem and wave your hand, an unwarranted search of your person is hardly something you’d want to indulge in.

Finally, let us add what rights citizens have. According to Article 2(4) of the Constitution, “Everyone may do what is not prohibited by law, and no one may be compelled to do what is not required by law.” For individuals, therefore, the opposite principle applies.

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Author of the article

JUDr. Ondřej Preuss, Ph.D.

Ondřej is the attorney who came up with the idea of providing legal services online. He's been earning his living through legal services for more than 10 years. He especially likes to help clients who may have given up hope in solving their legal issues at work, for example with real estate transfers or copyright licenses.

  • Law, Ph.D, Pf UK in Prague
  • Law, L’université Nancy-II, Nancy
  • Law, Master’s degree (Mgr.), Pf UK in Prague
  • International Territorial Studies (Bc.), FSV UK in Prague

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