What is a stop and search?

There are a number of laws which give powers to police officers to stop and search a person or vehicle without having to arrest them first.

Stop and search should only be used when police officers have a good reason to stop you, but being stopped and searched doesn’t mean you have done something wrong.

Find out more about stop and search - ride along scheme

If you are interested you can register to take part in the Stop and Search Ride Along Scheme. The Stop and Search Ride Along scheme is an opportunity to gain a real insight into our work, which goes on 24/7, and speak to officers and staff about what goes on in your neighbourhood.

Why might I be stopped and searched?

A police officer has powers to stop and search you if they suspect you’re carrying:

  • Drugs
  • Weapons
  • Stolen property
  • Something which could be used to commit a crime, e.g. a crowbar

What isn’t a stop and search?

A screening (knife) arch is not a stop and search. You can’t be forced to go through the arch, but refusal may result in further police action, or even a full search.

An officer can confiscate cigarettes or alcohol in view (even if it is in a container) if you are underage. This is not a stop and search.

Sometimes officers may just need to stop and ask you about something. This is called a ‘stop and account’, and isn’t the same as a stop and search. A police officer has powers to stop you at any time and ask you:

  • What you are doing?
  • Where have you been?
  • Where you are going?
  • What you are carrying?

The police officer or police community support officer must explain why you are being stopped and held to account for your actions or presence in an area but you don’t have to answer any questions they ask you. 

There are plenty of other occasions when you might also talk to police, and most of these do not qualify as either a ‘stop and account’ or ‘stop and search’. For example:

  • You stop an officer to ask for directions or information
  • You have witnessed a crime and are questioned about it to establish the background to the incident
  • You have been in an area where a crime recently occurred and are questioned about what you might have seen
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Who can ‘stop and search’ me?

A police officer or a police community support officer can carry out a stop and search. A police community support officer must be in uniform. A police officer does not have to be in uniform, but if they are not wearing uniform and they search you they must show you their identification.

Can I be stopped because of what I look like?

Unless you match a description of a suspect, officers must not base their grounds on your appearance – for example how old you look, your race, what you are wearing, or the fact that you may have committed a crime in the past. 

Where can a search be carried out?

Stop and searches mostly take place in public places, however, there are some powers e.g. to search for firearms and drugs, which allow police to search people anywhere.

If you are in a public place, you only have to take off your coat or jacket and your gloves, unless you have been stopped in relation to terrorism or where the officer believes you are using clothes to hide your identity.

If the officer asks you to take off more than this, or anything you wear for religious reasons, 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.

How should a stop and search be carried out?

A stop or stop and search must be carried out according to strict rules – the police have responsibility to make sure your rights are protected.

  • Police officers must use stop and search powers fairly, responsibly and without discrimination.
  • The officer must be polite and respectful at all times. 
  • The police officer will ask a few questions and then if necessary search you.
  • The stop should be handled quickly and professionally. 
  • Extensive searches must only be carried out when the circumstances suggest it is necessary.
  • The search must take place near where you are stopped, except in instances where moving you would protect your privacy.
  • The officer does not have the power to stop you in order to find grounds for a search.

What should the officer tell me?

When a police officer stops and searches you, they must: 

  • Tell you that you are being detained for the purposes of a search
  • Tell you what search power they are using
  • Tell you the details of exactly what items they are searching for
  • Explain their reasonable grounds for suspecting that you or your vehicle are carrying the items they are searching for
  • Give their name and identification number
  • If they are not in uniform, show you their warrant card (police ID)
  • Tell you which police station or police base they work from
  • Make a written or electronic record of the search (unless there are exceptional circumstances)
  • Provide you with a copy of the form or a receipt

What must I do?

Try to be calm and patient. Apart from the inconvenience, you may feel irritated if you feel you have been stopped when you haven’t done anything wrong – that’s completely understandable. However, the stop or stop and search will be over much sooner if you cooperate with the officers.

Speak to the officer if you think your rights are being infringed but don’t refuse to be stopped and searched. The process is not voluntary – the law gives police the authority to stop and search, and if you refuse you can be searched by force.

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.

Why do they ask about my ethnic background?

Everyone who is stopped or stopped and searched will be asked to define his or her ethnicity. You do not have to say what it is if you don’t want to, but the officer is required to record this. The ethnicity question helps community representatives make sure the police are using their powers fairly and properly. 

What will I be asked to remove?

The officer can ask you to remove your coat, jacket or gloves in public.

You may also be asked to remove anything that the officer believes you are wearing to conceal your identity in public.

The officer can also ask you to take off more than an outer coat, jacket or gloves, and anything you wear for religious reasons, such as a face scarf, veil or turban, but only if they take you somewhere out of public view. Searches involving the removal of anything worn for religious reasons or more than outer coat, jacket, gloves will normally be done by an officer of the same sex as you, and out of sight of anyone of the opposite sex.

What if I’m in a car?

A police officer can legally stop any vehicle at any time and ask to see the driver’s licence. They can also ask you and any passengers where you’re going and why. If the process ends there, this is considered a ‘vehicle stop’.

If, however, a police officer then tells you to step out of the vehicle and searches you, other passengers, or the car, this is a ‘stop and search’.

What is the receipt for?

In almost all cases, you should be given a receipt for the stop and search at the time it happens. If you want a copy of the record of your stop and search or if you want to complain either about being stopped or searched or the way it was carried out, this receipt will help identify the circumstances. 

The officer will record the following details on the receipt:

  • The details of the officer
  • The time and date of the encounter
  • The power used to search you

What can I do if I’m unhappy about the way I was treated?

If you are unhappy with how you were treated, or think your rights were infringed, you can make a complaint.

Under the Best Use of Stop and Search Scheme you can contact us if you have a concern about the way the police are using stop and search within your community by completing the Community Trigger Application form.