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Police: Stop and Search

Your Rights: Stop and Search.

This is a guide and does not cover all of the law. Click for Form 251 form which explains what the Police are required to complete upon request if you are stopped.

Why is it done?

Stop and Search can help the police detect crime and make our communities safer.

Who can stop you?

A police officer or a police community support officer.

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 they must show you their identity card.

You should not be stopped or searched just because of:

your age, race, gender, sexual orientation, disability,

religion or faith…

the way you look or dress, the language you speak …

because you have committed a crime in the past.

If you believe this is why you were stopped or searched, you can complain.

What is a stop?

A stop is when a police officer or police community support officer stops you and asks you to account for yourself.

That is, if they ask you to tell them:

What you are doing?

What you are carrying?

Why you are in an area?

Where you are going.

Because of the Stephen Lawrence Report, the officer must fill in a form saying why you were stopped and give you a copy.

Not every time a police officer or police community support officer talks to you will count as a stop. For example, if the officer is looking for witnesses, asks you for general information about an incident, or is giving you directions. This does not count as a stop and the officer would not normally fill in a form.  But even in this case, if you want you can ask for a form and the officer must fill out one and give it to you.

What is a stop and search?

This is when a police officer stops you and searches you, your clothes and anything you are carrying. Only a police officer (not a police community support officer) can search you.

You can only be stopped and searched if a police officer has good reason to suspect you are carrying: drugs, weapons or stolen property, items which could be used to commit a crime or to commit an act of terrorism or to cause criminal damage.

This good reason should be based on facts, information or intelligence or could be because of the way you are behaving.

There are times, however, when police officers can search anyone within a certain area. For example: when there is evidence that serious violence could take place there or where a terrorist threat has been identified.

But the officer should explain this to you and must be searching for items which could be used in connection with violence or terrorism.

Where can I be stopped and searched?

In a public place or anywhere if the police believe you have committed a crime.

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

What if I am in a vehicle?

Your vehicle can be stopped at any time and you may be asked to show your driving documents, such as your licence.

The police can search your vehicle if they have good reason to think it contains stolen good or drugs or weapons.

They can search your vehicle anytime, even if you are not there, but must leave a notice saying what they have done.  If the search causes damage to your car, you can ask for compensation, but only if the police did not find anything to connect you to a crime.

What happens if I am stopped and searched?

Before you are searched, the police officer should tell you:

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

Your right to a form.

If you are stopped or searched, the officer must fill in a form and give it to you straightaway, unless for example they are called away to an emergency.  In this case you can get a copy from a police station anytime within 12 months.

The officer must write down:

  • your name or a description of you (only if you are searched)
  • your self-defined ethnic background
  • when and where you were stopped or searched
  • why you were stopped or searched
  • if they are taking any action
  • the names and/or numbers of the officers
  • and if you were searched, what they were looking for and anything they found.

The police will ask you 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 stopping 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 a list of the national census categories which the officer will show to you.  You do not have to say what it is if you don’t want to. But this information is used to show if the police are stopping and searching people just because of their race or ethnicity.

How can I complain?

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, age, sexuality, gender, disability, religion or faith, you can complain of unlawful discrimination.

It will help if you keep the form the police gave you.

You can get advice from or complain to a police station .. your local police authority .. a Citizen’s Advice Bureau .. your local Race Equality Council .. the Independent Police Complains Commission .. the Commission for Racial Equality .. a solicitor.


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