5 Things You Can Demand From the Police (They Don’t Want You To Have)

If you have a complaint against the police or intend to sue them, if you believe they may hold false information on you, or maybe you are just curious as to what reports or allegations have been made against you, then you have a right to find out what the police have been writing, saying and recording in your name.

The subject access provisions of the Data Protection Act allows everyone to find out what information the police hold on them. However, before making your request, it pays to know exactly what type of information the police are likely to have gathered and where it could be stored. Simply writing a request for: “everything you have in my name” is likely to be rejected.

So, here are 6 examples of data you probably didn’t know the police store, that you have a right to obtain a copy of.

1. Police Notebooks

If the police have made any entry in their notebook that refers to you, your address or an incident concerning yourself, then you’re entitled to see what they’ve written. Obtaining a copy of these entries could be vital if you’re thinking of making an official complaint or if you believe that a false account has been made.

Police notebooks are not the personal property of individual officers. When the end of a notebook is reached it is handed back to the force that issued it and stored within an archive. These notebooks are retained for up to 10 years, sometimes indefinitely.

Cops do not like to give up their notebooks for public scrutiny and will go to great lengths to hide as much as they can. Commonly by placing strips of paper over the juicy bits before sliding it under the photocopier and then insisting that the missing information refers to somebody else’s data. Officially known as ‘redaction‘.

Sometimes they submit badly photocopied results, which, combined with the officer’s illegible handwriting, can make submissions impossible to read.

There are very specific guidelines issued to the police about the correct use of notebooks and they are forbidden from making erasures, tearing out pages, leaving blank spaces or gaps between lines, crossing out and overwriting. Nor are they allowed to ‘collude’ with other police officers to make identical entries into their notebooks. 

If you suspect the police have engaged in any illicit tampering with their notebooks or are trying to hide the information that you are entitled too, then appeal to the Information Commissioner’s Office – the government office tasked with ensuring companies comply with data protection. If the complaint is upheld, they will issue the police with a compliance notice forcing them to submit the full untampered information you requested.

2. Radio Traffic

Have the police been talking about you on the airwaves? Do you want to find out what was said that prompted their arrival? Do you want to find out what was being discussed at the scene while they were turned away from you? Well, guess what? If they mentioned you or your address then you are entitled to a copy of the radio traffic.

The British police and the emergency services currently use a secure digital trunk radio communications system called Airwave. This uses a technology called Tetra (Terrestrial Trunked Radio) which is half mobile phone, half walkie-talkie.

All communications traffic (including phone calls that can be made via the same radio) are automatically recorded and digitally stored on a secure server at each police control room. These recordings are retained for up to 5 years.

As personal data is commonly shared and stored via this network, this means it is accessible under the subject access requirements of the Data Protection Act. Therefore, if the police mention you, your address or any other verifiable data associated with your identity into their radios, you have a right to obtain a copy of the recording. This includes any text messages that mention you, which can also be sent via Airwave handsets.

When fulfilling a request for radio traffic ,the police should submit a clear recording on a CD. If it sounds tinny, or muffled, then it has probably been re-recorded directly from the console speakers and the sensitive information dubbed out. If you believe the radio traffic has been edited then demand the data exactly as it is stored, in its rawest digital form, as you are entitled to under provisions set out in the Data Protection Act.

3. Police Station CCTV

From the moment you arrive at a police station, until the moment you leave, you are being recorded. Everywhere. From the car park to the front desk, inside the cells and the interview room. Even the interior of some police vehicles.

The majority of police station systems record CCTV data 24 hours a day uninterrupted, directly to a hard drive. The data cannot be deleted or tampered with and is only accessible by a few nominated individuals.

If you ask for the footage of your visit, the police have to hand over every last uninterrupted second of it by way of a DVD. It doesn’t matter if you were a suspect, victim or an enquirer at the police station if you were captured by CCTV it is your right to see the data contained within it.

You aren’t restricted to requesting the time you were at the police station or in custody. You can request the footage leading up to and after your visit if you have good cause to believe you were mentioned within earshot of the CCTV. Idle gossip can also be classified as ‘personal data’ and must be surrendered upon request. Handy for catching out spiteful remarks that may have been made at your expense.

Be sure to make your request within 30 days of being captured by CCTV, because due to the volume of data stored, the hard drive self-erases on a 30-day cycle.

4. The Incident Log

The incident log is a record of every phone call, enquiry or contact made between the police and the public. As well as covering emergency calls, it also covers routine non-emergency matters and internal memos made by the police themselves.

Officers can be extremely blithe when updating these logs, wrongly thinking that no member of the public will see them. As a result, some of the entries bear little resemblance to the true nature of the incident: consisting of gossip, hearsay and needless criticism. These comments may in turn be read by other officers, influencing them to pursue a particular line of enquiry or make biased judgements.

Obtaining a full copy of the incident log under subject access is vital when you are making a complaint, conducting your own investigation, or pursuing any kind of action against the police. To make your request all you need is the incident log number or a clear indication of when the event took place.

As with all the other data listed here, the copies you receive are likely to be redacted where mention is made of others. If you dispute this, then you can appeal to the ICO.

If an investigation is still ongoing, or court proceedings are being brought, the copies you request can be heavily redacted or in some cases denied. This is because section 30 of the Data Protection Act empowers certain authorities – specifically the police – to remove any data that may be used in the prevention or detection of crime. Unfortunately, the police often abuse this exemption as a way of avoiding handing over documents they’d rather you don’t see.

5. Police phone calls

Although it’s common knowledge that all emergency 999 calls are recorded, you may not know that almost every telephone call made to, or from, a police station is recorded. This is because the same Airwave system used for police radio communications is also used for their telephone network.

Police officers can also make and receive phone calls while they are out on duty. This is because the Airwaves system can be redirected from the control center to an officer’s radio. Standard issue desktop telephones back at police HQ are also rigged up to the same Airwave system, and are automatically recorded as soon as the handset is lifted.

The police also keep written logs of every call they make or receive. Which means that where you are uncertain if a telephone call was made, you can request a copy of a police officer’s telephone log that lists your number.

As with radio traffic, a copy of the recordings should be submitted to you on CD with a time and date stamped digital signature. If the telephone conversation mentions the personal details of another this information can be dubbed out.

Not all police forces record every call, so it may be worth checking with your local force in advance of a subject access request to find out if they do.