Police Powers – Stop and Search

What is Stop and Search?

One of the powers that the police have is the ability to stop and search any member of the public. They do this in order to try and prevent crime in a community. This means that you could be stopped by the police and asked questions about what you are doing in that area. The police can stop you either on the street or when you are in your car.

Police also have the power to stop you and then search you if they believe you may be carrying an illegal substance or anything that could be used as a weapon.

What happens if I am stopped and searched?

If the police stop you it does not necessarily mean they believe you have done anything wrong and it is not the same as an arrest. Police may be stopping you to ask for help or information.

Unless you fit the description of a suspect the police cannot stop you on the basis of your age, race, sex, religion, the clothes you are wearing, hairstyles or tattoos.

What do the police do? 

The police must let you know what their name is and what station they work for. They also have to tell you the reason why they are stopping you and what they are looking for. Additionally, they must record all the details of the stop and search on a form that they give to you.  

The search must take place in a public place, e.g. the street. However, if the officer asks you to remove more than your coat, hat, gloves or anything you wear for a religious reason, they must take you somewhere out of the public view. If the police require you to remove all your clothes you must be searched by an officer of the same sex.

You will be asked to empty your pockets and the contents of your bag. They can also search your vehicle, even if you are not there, but they must inform you that they have done so.

If you are searched and found to be carrying an illegal substance/weapon, or police believe you have committed a crime, you may be arrested.

If the police do not find anything, your details will be recorded for monitoring purposes and you will be free to leave.

What information will I have to provide?

When you are being stopped and searched you do not have to provide the police with information such as your name, age, date of birth or address. However, it is advisable that you describe your own ethnic origin when asked as this information is used for monitoring purposes.

Can I complain?

If you think you have been treated unfairly and have only been stopped because of your age, ethnicity, clothes you wear etc. then you can make a discrimination complaint.

The form that you were given with the details of the stop and search should also have a record of the police officers details. This should enable you to take the complaint straight to the police station they work at.

If the outcome of your complaint is not to your satisfaction then you can take it further.  You can go to one of the following:

  • The Citizens Advice Bureau 
  • The Independent Police Complaints Commission
  • The Equality and Human Rights Commission
  • Or a solicitor