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Can the police stop and search me on the street?

The police have legislative powers to stop, and in some circumstances search, those individuals they suspect of having committed, or that about to commit, a crime. These powers enable police officers to safeguard communities by taking a preventative, as opposed to solely reactive, approach to crime.

Stop and account

The police can stop and question you at any time. They may ask for details such as:

  • Your name
  • Date of birth
  • Self-defined ethnicity
  • Where you are going
  • What you are doing in the area

In these instances, where a search is not being carried out, you are neither obliged to stop, nor answer, their questions. Where you choose not to answer and there is no other reason to suspect a crime has or will be committed, the police cannot use solely the refusal as a reason to search or arrest you.

However, where an officer points out an offence they suspect you have committed, you are then obliged to give this information. However, this does not automatically determine that you are guilty of the offence, or that you will be arrested.

Police officers are also entitled to stop a person driving, at any time. They may, in these cases, ask for your name, birth date, driving licence and certain certificates including your insurance or MOT.

Stop and search

Having reasonable grounds to suspect

Police officers, in some circumstances, have the power to search you, what youre carrying, and/or any vehicle. In order to do so, a police officer must have reasonable grounds to suspect you are carrying:

  • Illegal drugs
  • A weapon
  • Stolen property
  • Something that could be used to commit a crime

An example of a reasonable ground for suspicion would be a police officer having intelligence about a certain crime being commit in your area (and, further, by someone matching or similar to your description). A police officer may not, however, stop you solely on the basis of your age, race, nationality, appearance or religion. This would amount to discrimination.

In certain circumstances, a police officer can stop and search you without reasonable grounds if it has been approved by a senior police officer. This includes situations where it is suspected:

  • Serious violence could take place
  • You are carrying (or have used) a weapon
  • You are stopped in a specific place

What does the police officer have to tell me?

All stop and searches must be carried out with courtesy and consideration. The police officer must inform you of the following before they search you:

  • Their name and police station, as well as showing you their warrant card
  • What they expect to find on you, for example, a weapon
  • Their reason for conducting a search
  • What the legal reasons for the search are
  • How you can get a record of the search

You do have rights in this situation. Where not otherwise given or clarified, make sure to ask for the grounds as to why youre being stopped and searched. You can also check that the reason provided by the officer in question matches what they have recorded, once you have rightfully obtained your copy of the search record.

How can I be sure they are a police officer?

A police officer doesnt always have to be in uniform, but if they are not wearing uniform when they stop you, they must show you their warrant card. This is an identification card issued to all police officers, signed by the chief officer of their force, and certifies that they hold office. On the other hand, a police community support officer must be in uniform to conduct a stop and search.

Will I need to remove my clothes?

If you are in a public place, then a police officer as part of their search can only require you to take off:

  • Jacket
  • Outer clothing
  • Gloves

If more items need to be removed, this must be done:

  • By an officer of the same sex as you
  • Out of public view - for example, a police station.

The same applies if you are asked to remove items worn for religious reasons. However, being taken to the police station for items of clothing to be removed does not mean you are being arrested.

Recording the stop and search

The police officer must record the search but this does not amount to you having a police record. Following the stop and search, you are, by rights, entitled to either:

  • A written record, either at time of the event or available for later collection
  • Receipt, at time of the event
  • A copy of the record, later via email

It is important that you obtain this record if you wish to carry out a complaint about your stop and search, as this will provide useful information and evidence surrounding the circumstances.

The police officer must record:

  • Their details
  • The date, time and place
  • Reason for, and outcome of, the stop and search
  • Your name and/or your description, as well as your self-defined ethnicity

Making a complaint

You are entitled to make a complaint about a stop and search experience. This can be done by:

The information on this website is intended as a guide and does not constitute legal advice. Vardags do not accept liability for any errors in the information on this website, nor any losses stemming from reliance upon the statements made herein. All articles and pages aim to reflect the legal position at time they were published, and may have been rendered obsolete by subsequent developments in the law. Should you require specialist advice, tailored to your situation, please see how Vardags can help you.

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