Stop & Search: Know Your Rights

The main power, used on a daily basis by the police is contained in Sec 1 of PACE. It allows police officers to stop and search a person or vehicle for stolen or prohibited articles. The power can only be exercised if the office has “reasonable grounds” for suspicion.

This is a nebulous area, but an attempt to clarify what constitutes “reasonable grounds” can be found in Code A of the Codes of Practice.

What is a stop search?

Only a police officer can stop and search you, your clothes and anything you are carrying You may be stopped as the officer may have grounds to suspect that you are carrying:

• Drugs, weapons or stolen property;
• Items that could be used:
– to commit crime
– to cause criminal damage
• any article made or adapted for use in certain offences, for example a burglary or theft;
• offensive weapons i.e. knives

The grounds the police officer must have should be based on facts, information or intelligence or could be because of the way you are behaving. There are times, however, when police officers can search anyone within a certain area, for example:- Where there is evidence that serious violence has or may take place. (Section 60 Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994). The police officer should explain this to you and must be searching for items that could be used in connection with violence.

Remember, if you are stopped by the police, you have rights

• The officer must be polite and respectful at all times, treat you with dignity and respect.
• Give you the reason why you have been stopped; • give you their details, including name, police number and station; and • give you a copy of a stop/search form or receipt; • All stops and stops and searches must be carried out with courtesy, consideration and respect.
• The process should be handled quickly and professionally. • Police officers, must use stop and search powers fairly, responsibly and without discrimination.

During a stop and search what information will the police ask for?

The police have a legal requirement to include certain information from individuals who have been stopped and searched. This includes:

• Date and time of the stop and search • Location of the stop and search • Why they stopped you, the grounds • What they were looking for
• Names of the officers conducting the search and others present

The police officer will ask for your name and address and date of birth. You do not have to give this information if you don’t want to, unless the police officer says they are reporting you for an offence.

Everyone who is stopped or stopped and searched will be asked to define his or her ethnic background. You can choose from a list of national census categories that the officer will show you.

You do not have to say what it is if you don’t want to, but the officer is required to record this on the form. The ethnicity question help community representatives make sure the police are using their powers fairly and properly.

Where can I be searched?

 In a public place
 Anywhere, if the police believe you have committed a crime

If you are in a public place, you only have to take off your coat or jacket and your gloves (outer garments), unless you have been stopped in relation to terrorism or where the officer believes you are using clothes to hide your identityIf the officer asks you to take off more than this or anything you wear for religious reasons, such as a face scarf, veil or turban, they must take you somewhere out of public view. This does not mean you are being arrested. In this case, the police officer that searches you must be the same sex as you.

What if I am in a vehicle?

Your vehicle can be stopped at any time and you may be asked to show your driving documents, such as your drivers licence, insurance certificate and MOT.

Under the Road Traffic Act, a police officer can legally stop any vehicle at any time and ask to see your driving documents. It is good practice to keep these with you at all times to avoid any issues. In order to search your vehicle the police must have specific grounds, they cannot search as a matter of course or routinely.

What should I do if I am stopped or/and searched?

Everyone has a civic duty to help police officers prevent crime and catch offenders. The fact that the police may have stopped someone does not mean they are guilty of an offence.

Apart from the inconvenience, people may feel irritated that they’ve been stopped when they haven’t done anything wrong – that’s completely understandable. However, the stop or stop and search will be much quicker if a person co-operates with police officers.

It’s up to you whether you provide your name and address. You don’t have to, but the best advice is that you should co-operate with the police.

Don’t forget that the stop or stop and search must be carried out according to strict rules – the police have responsibility to ensure that people’s rights are protected. Everyone should expect to be treated fairly and responsibility. In almost all cases, an individual should be given a record of the stop or stop and search at the time it happens. The police use these powers to help make the local community safer by disrupting crime – public co- operation is an essential part of that.

How should I react?

Be patient
The police are aware that being searched is an inconvenience, and that you’re probably in a hurry to get where you’re going. They should make the search as brief as possible. But in the interest of public safety they must also be thorough.

Be calm
• Remember, you are not under arrest.
• Don’t refuse to be stopped or/and searched.
• The process is not voluntary – the law gives police the authority to stop and search. If you feel the search was unlawful or improper complain afterwards.
• Officers do not need your permission to go through your belongings – if you refuse, you can be searched by force.
• Try to stay calm and don’t be afraid to speak to the officer if you think your rights are being infringed.

What paperwork do I get after a stop and a stop and search?
You should receive a written record of the search or a receipt of the stop at the time of the event. If you want to complain either about being stopped or searched or the way it was carried out, this record / receipt will help identify the circumstances.

Supervisors at the police station also keep a copy of the search record. They use it to monitor the use of stop and stop and search powers and check for any inappropriate use. The police service must also make arrangements for community representatives to look at their stop and search records.

Police may use the search record at a later date to contact you about anything that may have happened in that area around the time you were stopped.

You will normally be given a search record at the time of the event. However, because of operational demands (public order situations, large public events, or if an officer is called to an emergency) you may be told where to collect the record later. A record must be made available for up to 12 months.


What information does the record contain?
The search record must contain the following information: • the officer details• the date, time and place of the stop and search • the reason for the stop and search • the outcome of the stop and search • your self-defined ethnicity

• the vehicle registration number (if relevant) • what the officers were looking for and anything they found • your name or a description if you refuse to give your name – you do not have

to provide the officer with your name and address.

During a stop and search what information do the police have to give me?
This is an important part of the search process. The police who stop and search you must provide you with certain information including:

• Their name and the station where they work (unless the search is in relation to suspected terrorist activity or giving his or her name may place the officer in danger. They must then give a warrant card or identification number)
• The law under which you have been stopped
• Your rights
• Why you have been stopped and searched
• Why they chose you
• What they are looking for Definition, Section 1, Police and Criminal Evidence Act (PACE) stop and search.

A police constable may detain in order to search any person, vehicle or anything which is in or on a vehicle, in any place to which the public has access, if he or she has reasonable grounds for suspecting that stolen or prohibited articles will be found. Any such article found during a search may be seized.

The Codes of Practice, Code A says:-
2.2 Reasonable grounds for suspicion depend on the circumstances in each case.
There must be an objective basis for that suspicion based on facts, information, and/or intelligence which are relevant to the likelihood of finding an article of a certain kind or, in the case of searches under section 43 of the Terrorism Act 2000, to the likelihood that the person is a terrorist.

Reasonable suspicion can never be supported on the basis of personal factors alone without reliable supporting intelligence or information or some specific behaviour by the person concerned. For example, a person’s race, age, appearance, or the fact that the person is known to have a previous conviction, cannot be used alone or in combination with each other as the reason for searching that person. Reasonable suspicion cannot be based on generalisations or stereotypical images of certain groups or categories of people as more likely to be involved in criminal activity.

2.3 Reasonable suspicion can sometimes exist without specific information or intelligence and on the basis of some level of generalisation stemming from the behaviour of a person. For example, if an officer encounters someone on the street at night who is obviously trying to hide something, the officer may (depending on the other surrounding circumstances) base such suspicion on the fact that this kind of behaviour is often linked to stolen or prohibited articles being carried.

Similarly, for the purposes of section 43 of the Terrorism Act 2000, suspicion that a person is a terrorist may arise from the person’s behaviour at or near a location which has been identified as a potential target for terrorists.

The person must also be informed that he is entitled to a record of the search and to which police station he should apply to obtain the record (CODE A para 2.6).

The acronym GOWISE – LY is taught to police officers to remind them of each requirement:-
[G]rounds for the search
[O]bject of the search
[W]arrant card must be produced if in plain clothes
[I]dentify, the PC must inform the suspect of his nam
[S]tation, the police station at which the constable works.
[E]ntitlement to a copy of the search record
[L]egal power being used to for detention.
[Y]ou are being detained for the purpose of search…suspect must be told he is being detained.

In a nutshell…
The police can search for the following but they must follow the correct procedure and have proper grounds to do so in order to comply with the legal requirements:

Stolen items
Offensive weapons
Articles for use in cheat
Articles for causing damage
Adult fireworks
Drugs Firearms
Smuggled goods
Alcohol (at sporting events)
Many environmental articles, and lots more


Human Rights and race relations
The Race Relations (Amendment) Act 2000 makes it unlawful for police officers to discriminate on the grounds of race, colour, ethnic origin, nationality or national origins when using their powers.

It should be noted that the Metropolitan Police Service was held to be “institutionally racist” at the Stephen Lawrence Enquiry.

Although the legislation does not refer to the Human Rights Act 1988, the police are required to comply with its provisions.

Research by the Home Office on a regular basis indicates that black and minority ethnic (BME) suspects are stopped and search disproportionately more often than white people. Research in 2006 shows that this is increasing.

“Black people were seven times more likely to be stopped and searched under these powers than White people, … Asian people were twice as likely to be stopped and searched than White people …” Race and the criminal justice system 2008 statistics

Recommendation 61 of the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry Report was launched in April 2005, Home Office document here.

Recommendation 61 of the report said that the police must make a written record of all “stops” and “stops and searches” made under any legislation. Non-statutory or so called “voluntary” stops must also be recorded. The record to include the reason for the stop, the outcome, and the self-defined ethnic identity of the person stopped. A copy of the record shall be given to the person stopped.


Definition of hate crime:
‘Any crime where the perpetrator’s prejudice against an indentifiable group of people is a factor in determining who is victimized.’ (ACPO, Sept 2000)

Definition of a Racist Incident:
‘A racist incident is any incident which is perceived to be racist by the victim or any other person.’ (Stephen Lawrence Inquiry 1999)

These guidelines were produced by Kashif Ahmed.

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