What is Stop and Search?
The police use stop and search methods to tackle crime. Police officers should only stop members of the public and search them when they genuinely think an individual is linked to criminal activity – whether that means looking for weapons, drugs or stolen property.
A police officer might stop you and ask:
- what your name is
- what you’re doing in the area
- where you’re going
Being stopped and searched doesn’t mean you’re being arrested. Remember that the stop and search must be carried out according to strict rules – the police have the responsibility to ensure that people’s rights are protected.
What are the police looking for?
Different laws give police the power to stop and search you. But they can only do this if they have a genuine suspicion that you are linked to criminal activity or are carrying:
- a weapon
- stolen property
- something that could be used to commit a crime.
This genuine suspicion must be based on ‘reasonable grounds’.
What is reasonable grounds?
Reasonable grounds is what an ordinary person would think was fair if they had all the information the police officer has. You can’t be stopped for no reason and you shouldn’t be stopped because of your physical appearance, or the fact that you belong to a particular category of people or have a criminal record.
Section 60 – being stopped without reasonable grounds
Section 60 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 allows a police officer to stop and search a person without suspicion. You can only be stopped and searched without reasonable grounds if it has been approved by a senior police officer. This can happen if it is suspected that:
- serious violence could take place
- you’re carrying a weapon or have used one
- you’re in a specific location or area
Before you’re searched the police officer must tell you:
- their name and police station
- what they expect to find, for example drugs
- the reason they want to search you, for example if it looks like you’re hiding something
- why they are legally allowed to search you
- that you can have a record of the search and if this isn’t possible at the time, how you can get a copy
If a Section 60 authorisation has been granted, there is little you can do to prevent the police carrying out this type of stop and search.
But, the police need to explain that a section 60 authorisation is in force and what they can do under this power. You are still entitled to a written statement that you have been stopped and searched under section 60 if you apply within one year.
Can they remove your clothes?
The police may ask you to take off your outer coat, jacket and gloves. Anything more, and they must take you to a police station – or out of public view to somewhere private.
If they don’t take reasonable steps to comply with these rules, the search may be considered unlawful.
Why do the police use stop and search?
The main reason the police use stop and search is to allow officers to investigate their suspicions about an individual without having to arrest them. How effective stop and search is, is as much about avoiding unnecessary arrests as it is about a crime being detected.
In 2019/20, stop and search resulted in almost 65,000 criminal acts being discovered and 34,000 arrests. This includes 4,418 arrests for possessing weapons.
However, we also know that stop and search can disproportionately affect some communities and groups.
That’s why the Mayor of London has created a short leaflet explaining the reasons why a police officer might stop and search you, your rights when you are stopped, and answering some of the most frequently asked questions about stop and search.
Print off this pocket-sized leaflet and keep it on you, so you will know what to do if you are stopped and searched.
Know your rights
It’s important that you're aware of your rights in the event of a stop and search.
Here are the main rights that protect you:
- the officers searching you must use the stop and search powers fairly, responsibly and with respect for people without discriminating
- if English is not your first language, and you do not understand why you have been stopped, reasonable steps must be taken to provide you with information in your own language
- the officer must keep the search time to a minimum
- 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 detain you in order to find grounds for a search
When they stop and search someone, the police still have to do it fairly and respect the person’s rights under the Equality Act 2010. They should not stop and search you because of things like your:
- race (including nationality and ethnic background)
- sexual orientation
- gender reassignment
- religion or faith.
If you feel you have been stopped for no good reason or have been treated unfairly, you can make a police complaint.
In England and Wales, you can complain through the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC for short), which will make sure your complaint gets to the right people. To do this you can: