This article explores the impact of the Human Rights Act (HRA) 1998 on the police service of England and Wales. It draws upon qualitative data produced during interviews with police personnel to provide the first empirical study of the influence of the HRA on the police service at an organizational level and on the day-to-day working practices of police officers. Whilst the fundamental aim of the HRA is to protect and enhance citizens’ rights and freedoms, we argue that there is little evidence to suggest that it has promoted a greater awareness of, and respect for, human rights amongst police officers. Rather, the HRA has become institutionalized by the police service into a series of bureaucratic processes that, although requiring conformity by officers, do not encourage active consideration of human rights issues. Instead of shaping police work to make it more responsive to human rights, bureaucratic processes are used by officers to legitimize and justify their existing practices. Focusing on ‘risks’ rather than ‘rights’, officers satisfy the ‘tests’ introduced by the HRA through an assessment of the dangers posed by particular individuals and crime types and the resource implications of effectively managing them. An important result of this is that the HRA is not used to achieve a balance between individual rights and community interests, but becomes a framework for mandating police decision making and protecting officers from criticism and blame.