Updated on 25.10.2023

The main responsibility of the police is to detect and prevent crime and maintain public order. When performing their duties, police officers must respect your rights and dignity and cannot exceed their legal powers. In exercising their powers, the police have the right to: 

  • Give you written or oral instructions 

  • Summon you 

  • Carry out a personal identification inspection 

  • Detain you in specific cases established by law 

  • Search you and your personal belongings in specific cases established by law 

  • Use force and firearms against you only when it is absolutely necessary as a last-resort measure 

Police instructions 

On particular occasions the police can give you oral or written instructions. Police instructions are obligatory unless they force you to commit an obvious crime or violation or threaten your own life or health. 

An example of an oral instruction is, for instance, when the police order you to pull over your car if they catch you speeding.  

Written police instructions, addressed to you, must contain: 

  • name of the issuing body; 
  • your name 

  • legal and factual grounds for why the instructions were issued; 

  • your particular rights and obligations;  

  • how you can fulfil the instructions and the deadline; 

  • information about how and before what authority you can appeal the given instructions; 

  • date of issuance, the signature of the official who has issued the instruction and their position; 

  • your signature. 

If you refuse to sign the instructions or for some reason you cannot receive them the police need to find a witness to sign them and testify that you refused or were unable to sign.  

Summoning of citizens 

The police may order you to visit official premises, such as police stations. For instance, if a precautionary measure is taken against you, the police may order you to report on a weekly basis at the territorial police office.  Summons must be given in a written form and must include: 

  • why you were summoned 

  • time and place of where you need to show up 

In urgent cases, summoning may happen by phone, but even in this case, you should also receive it in writing. 

Personal identification inspections 

The most common case of such an inspection is when the police stop you and ask you to show your identity document (passport, registration card issued by the State Agency for Refugees, Bulgarian ID card etc.) to establish your identity and check the validity of your identity and residence documents. The police do not need your permission to collect your personal data. 

The police can undertake personal identification inspections also in the following cases: 

  • if you have committed or there is information that you have committed a crime or another public order violation 

  • to detect or investigate crimes committed by others  
  • in cases of opened administrative penal proceedings 
  • at a control point, organised by the police bodies  
  • to assist another state body  

To establish your identity the police are obliged to carry out identification activities that include: 

  • taking fingerprints and palm prints; 

  • taking your photographs; 

  • establishing external characteristic features (tattoos, scars etc.); 

  • taking measurements and samples for comparative testing; 

  • taking samples for comparative DNA identification. 

You may refuse to be examined and give fingerprints. In this case, the police can carry out these activities compulsorily, but they first need the permission of a judge.  

You should not try to prevent the police from doing their job unless their actions are harmful and against the law.  

Can the police detain you? 

The police can detain you for up to 24 hours when: 

  • There is data suggesting that you have committed a crime; 

  • You deliberately prevent the police from carrying out their duties; 

  • Your actions show that you have a serious mental disorder and your behaviour disturbs public order or clearly exposes your own life or the life of others to danger; 

  • The police cannot establish your identity, because you do not have identity documents and there is no other way you can prove who you are – for example, through another person with an established identity who is with you at the time of the inspection. If you are a foreigner without a valid residence permit in Bulgaria, you also risk being put in immigration detention for up to 18 months in order to be returned to your country of origin or to another country. 

You can be detained for more than 24 hours if: 

  • if you have escaped from a prison or the place you were detained  

  • if there is an international investigation or European Arrest Warrant against you, and another state requests your extradition. 

In all of these cases, you have the following rights: 

  • To be informed of the reasons for your detention in a language you can understand.  

  • To be issued and given a copy of a written detention order, signed by the police.  

  • To consult and appoint a lawyer

Finding a good lawyer in Bulgaria 

Legal aid  

  • To refuse to give explanations, if your detention is based on data that indicates you have committed a crime. 

If you are under 18 years old, a lawyer will be appointed to you as of the moment of detention to appeal the detention order before the competent regional court.  The judgement of the regional court can be appealed before the relevant administrative court. The judgment of the administrative court is final. 

If you are under 18 years old, you also have the right to: 

  • be accommodated in a special place separately from adults 

  • medical examination by a doctor to assess your general physical and mental condition right after the detention, performed no later than 24 hours from the moment of detention. 

If the grounds for your detention are no longer valid, the police must release you immediately.  

Police search  

The police can search you ONLY if you: 

  • are a detainee  

  • have hazardous or prohibited objects (e.g. a gun); 

  • were caught at a crime scene or in the act of violation of public order, when there is sufficient evidence that you possess objects related to the  crime/violation 

  • are a person for whom there is an alert in the Schengen Information System for implementing specific control measures; 

Important: the personal search must be carried out ONLY by a person of the same gender as you! 

The police can search your personal belongings when: 

  • there are reasons for carrying out personal identification inspections and detention (See sections “Personal identification inspections” and “Can the police detain you?”); 

  • there is sufficient evidence that items related to a crime or offence are being concealed; 

  • prior to placing you in an immigration detention centre – in Busmantsi or in Lyubimets. 

The police must draw up a protocol when they carry out a search. It must be signed by the police body, one witness and you. The police must provide you with a copy of the protocol. 

The search must be carried out in a manner, which is not degrading to your honour and dignity!                                                 

Use of force and firearms 

The police can use force and firearms ONLY when it is absolutely necessary and there is no other possibility to protect the life, health, and rights of citizens. For example, when you refuse to obey a legal order, escape detention, demonstrate violent and threatening behaviour, conduct an attack, etc. 

Force cannot be used to carry out detention or to prevent the escape of a person who has not committed violent acts and is not harming others. The police are also prohibited from using physical force against obviously pregnant women and children, except in cases of mass disorders, when all other means have been exhausted.

Before using force and firearms the police are obliged to give a warning. The police also need to take all measures to protect your life and health. 

The police can use firearms without warning when conducting border monitoring: 

  1. in the event of an armed assault on them; 

  2. against persons, offering armed resistance. 

The police must stop using force immediately when it is no longer necessary.  

What should you do if you are a victim of police violence? 

Police violence, when it is excessive and not necessary, is illegal and punishable. In such cases, there are a few things that you can do: 

  1. If possible, take photos of your wounds and seek a doctor’s help, so that you can have evidence of the violence. The doctor can verify the abuse in a Medical Certificate, and provide you with a copy of it.  

  2. Lodge a complaint against the police officer who has committed the violence at the nearest police station or online via the application form at the website of the Ministry of Interior.  

Here you can find the addresses of the police stations in Sofia, Harmanli and Plovdiv in Bulgarian. 

When filing your complaint, request a reference number under which the complaint is registered so that you can keep track of the development and have proof that you have lodged it 

If the allegation of police violence proves to be true, disciplinary proceedings must be initiated against the officers. 

  1. You can also file a report to the closest Prosecutor’s Office. You can easily do that by using this template report form

 In this case, also request a reference number to track your case online

  1. Additionally, you can file a complaint to the Ombudsperson – in person (orally or in a written form), via the post or online. Complaints for violations committed more than two years as of the date of the complaint, will not be considered! 

Keep in mind that your complaints and reports filed at the police station, at the prosecutor’s office or the Ombudsperson cannot be anonymous, otherwise, they will not be reviewed. When filing complaints you always need to include: 

  • your full name, address and contact details (phone number, email) 

  • description of the case – incl. time and place of the event, as well as the existence of witnesses  

  • an attached copy of the medical certificate and other relevant documents proving that you have been a victim of physical and/or emotional violence 

  1. You can report cases of corrupt behaviour of police officers by calling +359 2 982 22 22 or filing an online application form
  2. You have the right to seek compensation for unlawful actions by law enforcement authorities (for instance: police violence, searches of you and of your personal belongings which lack legal justification, detention lasting longer than the maximum duration established by law, etc). To do that you need to initiate a judicial procedure. Consult a lawyer before doing so.