Stop and Search

Of all the powers conferred upon the police, Stop and Search can be one of the most contentious for the public.

This section of our website aims to:

  • Explain the law, and what we mean by ‘stop and search’,
  • Explain the community benefits of the lawful and appropriate use of Stop and Search, including some of the success stories behind the use of the power,
  • Explain how we ensure that the power is used legitimately – including our own internal audits, how we invite groups representing under-represented sections of our community to scrutinise our Stop and Searches, and how disaffected members of the public can complain or seek more information from us,
  • Present in a transparent and factual way our Stop and Search statistics, including the proportion of Black and Ethnic Minority searches we conduct, and the proportion carried out on children (under 18s).

What do we mean by stop and search?

Note - To ensure national consistency, much of the below narrative is a direct lift from the ‘Approved Professional Practice’ publication on Stop and Search, circulated by the College of Policing.

The police have a range of statutory (legal) powers of stop and search available to them, depending on the circumstances. Most, but not all, of these powers require an officer to have reasonable grounds for suspicion that an unlawful item is being carried. The two main pieces of legislation that confer the power (and by far the most widely used by the police) are:

  • Code A of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (the power to search for stolen, prohibited or dangerous articles, or articles that may be used to commit crime) ,
  • Section 23 of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 to search for suspected illicit drugs.

There are also powers under the Terrorism Act 2000, some of which require reasonable suspicion and some which do not, and under Section 60 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 which relate to powers to screen for weapons in cases of anticipated violence or disorder.

The one thing the powers all have in common is that they allow officers to detain a person who is not under arrest in order to search them or their vehicle for an unlawful item. Search after arrest is not a stop and search power, and there are a number of sections of legislation that allow the police to search people, vehicles and premises once somebody is arrested.

It is because this power allows officers to search someone without them being under arrest for an offence, that Stop and Search is particularly heavily scrutinised by the public, the media, politicians and inspecting bodies like Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary. If not used in a fair, justifiable and transparent way, it can and has caused community tension and perceived illegitimacy.

It is worth mentioning here that the powers under section 163 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 to stop motor vehicles, and under the Police Reform Act 2002 for Police Community Support Officers (PCSOs) to search for and seize alcohol and tobacco from young people are not stop and search powers and are not currently incorporated into Code A. The legal differences may not always be obvious to members of the public experiencing such encounters, and they may still associate the encounter with having been stopped and searched. Encounters under these powers give rise to the same considerations of fairness and effectiveness as stop and search powers.

Other police-initiated encounters that are not dependent on a legal power, for example conversational encounters or stop and account, may also be seen by the public as falling under the same general label as ‘stop and search’. These other encounters are referenced in Code A due to the potential for disproportionate use, but are not subject to the same detailed obligations as stop and search.

When is stop and search used, and what are the community benefits?

The primary purpose of stop and search powers is to enable police officers to allay or confirm suspicions about individuals without exercising their power of arrest. The powers were conferred by Parliament because they are a crucial tool for the police in preventing crime and disorder, and terrorism.

Police officers meet, speak with and informally advise members of the public thousands of times every day. This is the nature of effective community policing and highlights our tradition of policing by public consent.

Where an officer suspects a person is, has been or is about to be involved in unlawful activity or where they are seeking information about a person’s whereabouts and intentions, they may first stop them and ask some questions so that the person has an opportunity to account for themselves. The person is free to leave at this stage and not obliged to answer the questions.

If the officer has reasonable grounds to suspect that a person or vehicle is carrying an unlawful item, or one of the ‘no suspicion’ powers applies (i.e. a stop and search power where the officer is not required to have reasonable grounds), they may decide to carry out a stop and search. This means that the person can be detained for the purpose of the search. This is not an arrest, but the person is not free to leave until the search is either completed or not proceeded with, and the officer is empowered to use reasonable force if necessary to effect the search. It is therefore a more intrusive process than a stop and account, although not as intrusive as an arrest.

Before you are searched, under Code A the officer must take all reasonable steps to ensure that you understand:

  • that you must wait to be searched;
  • what law they are using and your rights;
  • their name and ID number;
  • the station they work at;
  • why they stopped you;
  • what they are looking for; and
  • your right to a receipt.

The officer can 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. You can ask that the officer who searches you is the same sex as you.

Police interactions with the public generally, and more specifically stop and search encounters, have a more or less restrictive effect on individual rights. Each encounter must therefore be lawful as well as necessary and proportionate.


In 2107, we arrested 123 people as a result of what was found during a stop and search.

Examples include:

In July 2017, plain clothes officers who were responding to multiple community complaints about street-level drug dealing in Scunthorpe observed two men exchanging small packages and cash in the exact alleyway pointed out by a number of callers. They were both stopped and searched.  One of them was arrested after he was found to be carrying a quantity of Class A drugs and cash.

In October 2017, staff at a shop in Hull reported seeing a man enter the store with what looked like a knife protruding from his pocket. Police quickly arrived and located a man with an identical description walking down the nearby street, but could not see anything that looked like a knife. They stopped him and performed a search under Code A.

A large knife was recovered in addition to two bank cards belonging to two different women. The man was arrested for possession of an offensive weapon and theft of the bank cards, one of which was later attributed to a burglary.

In Grimsby during November 2017 we answered a report, in the middle of the night, of two men acting suspiciously on a housing development.  One of the men was seen carrying a bag and going round the back of an unoccupied house. 

Officers stopped and searched both men after becoming suspicious that they may be carrying items which would help them to commit a theft.  A screwdriver was recovered and both men were arrested.

Shortly afterwards it was discovered that two houses had been broken into and copper piping removed and secreted for later collection. The men were charged in connection with these burglaries.

It is worth noting that in all cases, the police had reasonable suspicion that something criminal was occurring, but needed to confirm or allay this suspicion before an arrest was reasonable and justified. All three are a good examples of how the power can be used to protect our communities.

How do we ensure that the power is used legitimately?

We recognise that the use of stop and search powers can be controversial, particularly if our communities feel that the power is being used unfairly, to target certain groups of people disproportionately, or in a way that isn't transparent and open to scrutiny.

In 2017, the Force was graded as successful in complying with the requirements of the Best Use of Stop and Search Scheme (BUSS) by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary.

The Best Use of Stop and Search Scheme was announced by the then Home Secretary Theresa May in her statement to Parliament on 30 April 2014. The principle aims of the scheme are to achieve greater transparency, community involvement in the use of stop and search powers and to support a more intelligence-led approach which leads to better outcomes, for example, an increase in the stop and search to positive outcome ratio.

We are very proud to have achieved compliance and have sought to build upon this in 2018

We now:

  1. Audit every single stop and search carried out by our officers. These audits are carried out by an independent officer of the rank of Inspector, and are further dip sampled by an independent officer of the rank of Superintendent. An officer of the rank of Assistant Chief Constable has personal oversight of the results of the audit process which are disseminated to the whole Force. This audit identifies good practice but also officers in need of training or in rare cases in need of sanction, because of inappropriate use of the power.
  2. Periodically bring in independent auditors from other forces/organisations to review our Stop and Searches and the way we manage Stop and Search. The next of these is currently underway (July 2018).
  3. Show our internal audits to an independent Diversity Group. This groups meets twice a year, and is made up of community representatives from different ethic and faith groups, and the Diversity Manager from the Officer of the Police and Crime Commissioner. Young people (under 18) are also represented on the group. The role of this group is to consider the detail of our stop and searches and in particular consider whether there is any evidence of bias (deliberate or unconscious) towards any one group within our community. The group prepares a written report for the Force, which ensures that any feedback is taken seriously. This feedback is available on request.
  4. Provide a ‘ride along scheme’ for any member of the public wanting to observe stop and search. This is advertised on our website and was last taken up in December, although members of the press regularly accompany our officers on patrol in various parts of the Force, sometimes observing searches.
  5. Are in the process of rolling out ‘Body Worn Video’ for all operational officers, hopefully by the end of 2018. This will video-capture all stop and searches allowing the interactions between our officers and the public to be recorded, and scrutinised. We aim to show this footage on request to our independent Diversity Group, and make it available during any complaint about a stop and search.
  6. Advertise how someone unhappy about a search can complain. You can do this via a police station, via 101, via your local Police and Crime Commissioner, via the Independent Police Complaints Commission, or the Citizens Advice bureau. Your complaint will be looked at by a senior officer, and in the forthcoming months, a video recording of the search should be available to assist with the investigation.
  7. Have trained every one of our front line officers in approved national stop and search training written by the College of Policing. This training focuses heavily on avoiding unconscious bias, and the community impact of the misuse of the power. This training will be repeated in 2019 to ensure that it is refreshed and captures new recruits or transferees into the Force.


Our Stop and Search statistics

Below are the latest statistics on Stop and Search. This data, and the national data on the links below it show us that in 2017 (last full year's data):

  • We have not searched as many people as the vast majority of other Forces,
  • We searched 896 people, and for 193 of them there was a ‘positive outcome’ like an arrest, cannabis warning, caution or fixed penalty notice. This equates to 22% of searches having a positive outcome, which is above the national average for Police Forces in England and Wales,
  • On 85% of occasions, the officer found what they were looking for. In the other 15% of searches they found something different, but still illegal.
  • We only searched one person under the age of 11, and 75% of searches were on 18s or over,
  • Almost 91% of the people we search are male,
  • 7.3% of our searches were on Black or Minority Ethnic Groups, which is higher than the proportion of these groups in our communities (3.7%). This was looked at in more detail by the Force and is discussed below.

In line with National Statistics on Stop and Search, Humberside Police searches more Black and Ethnic Minority people than their representation in our communities. This was an area of concern that needed a detailed analysis. This analysis has been done and is due to be independently scrutinised by our Independent Advisory Group in August 2018.

The findings of the analysis do not suggest that Black and Ethnic Minority individuals are being disproportionately targeted by Humberside Officers. Among the pieces of evidence considered by the Force in drawing this interim conclusion are:

  1. The percentages of Black and Minority Ethnic Groups in our communities is based on 2011 census data. There is strong evidence that the 2021 census will show a statistically significant increase in the BAME populations within the Force. This outdated census skews the data because it under-estimates the proportion of these groups in our local communities.
  2. It is not always helpful to do ‘whole population’ percentage comparisons, because the people that police forces stop and search are not representative of the whole population. For example, the Force searched virtually no children under 11, a very small number of adults over 65, and only 9% of searches were women in 2017. Searches tend to be carried out on young males, because (sadly) it is this group that commit the majority of crime in our society. Inevitably, some of these males are from Black and Minority Ethnic Groups, but in total the Force ‘only’ searched an average of 12 BAME individuals per month in 2017 – around one person every three days, and there is no evidence of the same people being repeatedly targeted.
  3. Unfortunately, Humberside Police does suffer (like many of the surrounding forces) with an influx of criminals from the larger metropolitan areas such as the North West and London, some of which are from BAME groups. These travelling criminals can heavily influence Stop and Search statistics but do not represent the communities of Humberside, and we only stop and search any known criminal if there are specific grounds at the time (i.e. believed to be carrying weapons), not just because of who they are (this is a key requirement of the legislation).
  4. An officer of the rank of Superintendent has reviewed every one of the searches on BAME individuals in 2017 and 2018. None showed obvious evidence of deliberate or unconscious bias, and the majority were police officers responding to reports from members of the public, rather than forming grounds from direct observations. The reviews of this audit will be scrutinised by the various Diversity Groups as mentioned above and any findings or observations robustly acted upon,
  5. The Force has trained, and is currently retraining the workforce in avoiding ‘unconscious- bias as part of its commitment to diversity’ and legitimacy.

Stop and Search data recorded by Humberside Police 2018

Definition of Fair and Effective Stop Search

Best Use of Stop and Search scheme self-assessment template

Object of the search versus the outcome

Guidance for police forces on the implementation of the best use of stop and search scheme Stop and Search Statistics  Humberside Police area information

MOJ: Statistics on Race and the Criminal Justice System 2012

Equalities and Human Rights Commission: Stop and Think report