A page of information about police stop and search powers in the UK and your rights when you are stopped and searched.
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:
- Stolen property
- Tools which could be used to commit a crime
If you are stopped or searched it doesn’t mean you have done something wrong. But a police officer must have a good reason for stopping you and should tell you what this is. You should not be stopped or searched just because of your age, race or the way you dress.
Where can I be stopped and searched?
- In a public place
- Anywhere – if the police believe you have committed a serious crime
If the police think there may be serious violence then they can search everyone in an area for weapons – e.g. near a football ground – without a good reason to search each person.
A police officer can stop a vehicle at any time and ask to see the driver’s licence and other documents. 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 they didn’t find anything to connect you to a crime.
How will they search me?
Before searching you, the police officer must normally tell you:
- Their name
- The station they work at
- Why they are searching you
- What they are looking for
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
- Your gloves
The police can only ask you to take off more than this or anything you wear for religious reasons, such as a face scarf, if they take you somewhere private e.g. a police station or the back of a police van. This does not mean you are being arrested. In this case, the officer who searches you must be of the same sex as you.
What happens next?
The police officer must write down:
-Your name or a description of you
- Why they searched you
- When and where they searched you
- What they were looking for and anything they found
- The name and number of the officer who searched you
- Your ethnic background
The police do not have to write this down if they just stop you and don’t search you. The police will ask for your name, address and date of birth. You do not have to give any of this information if you don’t want to, unless the police tell you they are reporting you for an offence. If this is the case you could be arrested if you don’t tell them.
The police will write down your ethnic group. They may ask you to say what this is. This is just to check they are not stopping and searching people just because of their race or ethnic background.
If you don’t get a copy of what they wrote down then and there, you can get a copy from the police station within 12 months.
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. It will help if you keep a copy of the details that the police wrote down when they searched you. You can get advice from, or complain to:
- A Citizen’s Advice Bureau
- The Commission for Racial Equality
- A solicitor