Stop and Search - Know Your Rights

All of us want to live in a community that is safe and free from crime.

To make sure this happens, the police sometimes have to stop people and ask them to account for their actions or presence in an area. Sometimes the police may also need to carry out a search of a person’s clothes or property.

As the police want to be open, honest and accountable, they will now provide people with a record explaining why a stop or a search to stop and search was carried out.

 This page aims to help you understand stop and search procedures, the type of behaviour you should expect from the police and in return, what the police expect from you

What is a 'stop and search'?

Police officers can stop and talk to you at any time.  But they should only search you if they suspect you are carrying:

  • drugs;
  • weapons;
  • stolen property; or
  • items which could be used to commit crime, terrorist act or damage property

Why me?

If you are stopped and searched it doesn’t mean you have done something wrong.  But a police officer must have a good reason for stopping and searching you and should tell you what this is.

There are occasions when police officers can search anyone within a certain area, for example when there is evidence that serious violence could take place there, or a terrorist threat has been identified.  The officer should explain this to you and must be searching for items to be used in connection with terrorism or violence.

You should not be stopped just because of your age, race, ethnic background, nationality, religion or faith, the way you look, the language you speak or because you have committed a crime in the past.  If you believe this is the case, you can complain. (See “How can I Complain?”)  The only exception to this would be on very rare occasions where there is a specific terrorist threat.

Where can I be stopped and searched?

  • in a public place; or
  • anywhere – if the police believe you have committed a serious crime. 

A police officer can stop a vehicle any time and ask to see the driver’s licence.  If they have good reason to think your car contains stolen goods, drugs or weapons, they could search it even if you are not there.  But the police must leave a notice saying what they have done.

If the search causes damage, you can ask for compensation but only if the police didn’t find anything to connect you to a crime.

What happens?

The police officer must normally tell you:

  • that you must wait to be searched;
  • what law they are using and your rights;
  • their name;
  • the station they work at;
  • why they chose you;
  • what they are looking for; and
  • that you have a right to be given a record of the stop or search straightaway.

If the officer is not in uniform, they must show you their identity card.

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 in some circumstances where the officer believes you are using the clothing to conceal your identity.

If the police ask you to take off more than this or anything you wear for religious reasons, such as a face scarf or turban, they must take you somewhere out of the public view.  This does not mean you are being arrested. In this case, the officer who searches you must be the same sex as you.

Your right to a record

If you are searched, the police must give you a written record straightaway unless, for example, they are called away to an emergency.  Or you can get a copy from the police station anytime within 3 months.

The police must write down:

  • your name or a description of you;
  • your self-defined ethnic background;
  • the date, time and place of the stop or search;
  • why they stop and searched you;
  • when and where they stop and searched you;
  • if they are taking any action;
  • the names and/or numbers of the officers; and
  • what they were looking for and anything they found.

The police will ask for your name, address and date of birth.  You do not have to give this information if you don’t want to, unless the police say they are reporting you for an offence.  If this is the case you could be arrested if you don’t tell them.

You will also be asked to say what your ethnic background is from the list of national census categories.  You do not have to say what it is if you don’t want to.  But this information helps show if the police are stopping and searching just because of their race or ethnicity.

How can I complain?

If you have difficulty understanding English, for example if you are deaf, then the police must take reasonable steps to ensure that you understand your rights.

The police should treat you fairly and with respect.  If you are unhappy with how you were treated, you can complain.  If you feel you were treated differently because of your race, nationality, ethnic background, you can complain of direct or indirect race discrimination.

It will help if you keep the record that the police gave you.

You can get advice from, or complain to:

  • your local police station;
  • your police and crime commissioners office;
  • a Citizen’s Advice Bureau;
  • your local Race Equality Council;
  • the Commission for Racial Equality; or
  • a solicitor
     

National Census Categories

Asian or Asian British

Indian
Bangladeshi
Pakistani
Other Asian background

Black or Black British

Caribbean
African
Other Black background

Chinese or Other Ethnic Group

Chinese
Any other Ethnic Group

White

British
Irish
Any other White background

Mixed

White and Black Caribbean
White and Black African
White and Asian
Any other mixed background