Dos and Don’ts: Police

Your rights and obligations if you ever have to deal with the authorities

No one wants to experience it, but there may be occasions when you have to deal with the police when living abroad. In the Czech Republic, the possibility might fill you with dread because of the country’s past or your awareness of the reputation police officers have among locals. The reality, as ever, is more complicated.

On the Street
From my interactions with the police, and what I’ve observed of them in the center of Prague, their negative reputation as dimwitted and cold isn’t always true. Around Old Town and Malá Strana, I’ve noticed officers giving directions to people…yes, even in English.

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Even if you have to deal with the police because of a serious matter, they try to overcome language barriers. A few years back an ‘enthusiastic football fan’ kicked me in the knee with what felt like a steel capped boot while I was on the way home from the bus station, carrying a bag in each hand. It was after a football match, so the police following the group of ‘fans’ responded immediately. When I went to the police station to give my statement, they tried to find someone who spoke English, though in the end it was easier in Czech. If I have one complaint about the experience, apart from the sore knee, it was a certain lack of organization on the side of the police. From this experience, I would say the authorities tried to be helpful but a degree of patience was necessary.

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Show us Your Papers
There can be occasions when the police will seem impolite as a matter of course. This is when they ask you to produce some form of ID, either a passport or an ID card. According to Czech law, a police officer has the right to demand proof of identity as this recent ‘crackdown’ illustrates.

As one of those 3200 foreigners checked on that occasion, I can tell you the officers were not as friendly as my previous encounter. They asked for my passport, which I luckily enough had with me, recorded my details, and remained absolutely stone faced when I asked what it was about. Though it was just one operation, it still made me feel uncomfortable not knowing why I was being asked to prove who I was. I understand that it’s the law, but it’s just not one I’ve become accustomed to. Fortunately, this was the only time in eight years I’ve been spot-checked, so I presume it’s a rare occurrence.

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No ID, No Luck
I contacted the police to ask them what would happen if a person doesn’t have their passport, since most people are not used to carrying it and would tend to leave it at home. The police spokeswoman, Kateřina Rendlová, provided the following response:

“It must be said, that if foreigners are not used to carrying their documents on them, they should get used to it. Having travel documents on you is an obligation, which the law directly states. A foreigner is required during a police check to prove his/her identity and entitlement of stay in our territory. If he/she is unable [to prove identity and entitlement of stay], the police officer is empowered to give him/her an on the spot fine up to 3000 CZK and require them to prove his/her identity.”

Rendlová also said that the police do not accept photocopies of passports. About the only positive is that these checks seem fairly infrequent.

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Your Rights
If the police take action against you, you have right to an interpreter, providing you state you have no command of the Czech language. The cost of the interpreter is covered by the state. But if you need an interpreter while dealing with a government office, the costs are covered by the individual.

Have you had any experiences with the police in the Czech Republic? Tell us about them below!

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