Stop and Search Rights

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Stop and search is one of the most used, most controversial and most criticised uses of police power in England and Wales. Statistics from 2019 show that this power is used against seven in every 1,000 people, a figure which varies dependent upon ethnicity and location.

Between 2018 and 2019, there were approximately four stop and searches per 1,000 white people compared to 38 in every 1,000 black people, and 11 in every 1,000 Asian people. More than half  of these stop and searches took place in London, with 22 in every 1,000 being conducted.

This blog offers an overview of the stop and search process and what individuals should expect.

A Traffic Light with a red man
A Traffic Light with a Red Man, By Darius Krause

Who Can Do What?

There are only two types of officers who can stop you: a police community officer (wearing uniform) or a police officer (with or without uniform). However, when it comes to searching you, this can only be carried out by a police officer.

Stop and Search Power

There are two main ways in which a police officer can search you:

  1. Suspicion-based stop and search; or
  2. Suspicion-less stop and search

In relation to the suspicion-based stop and search, under section 1 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1987, an officer is only able to do this if they have ‘reasonable’ grounds for suspecting that you are carrying either illegal drugs, a weapon, stolen property or something you could use to commit a crime.

Reasonable grounds is defined by whether an ordinary person, with the same knowledge as the police officer, would think it would be appropriate to stop and search you. This is the most used stop and search with 97% of all stop and searches being conducted under this ground.

The second ground is more controversial. Under section 60 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, a police officer may stop and search a person without reasonable grounds for suspicion. This can only occur if the officer has received approval by a senior police officer.

Authorisation itself lasts for 24-hours and requires the senior officer to reasonably believe that a serious incident involving violence may take place and a stop and search will help prevent this; or violence has taken place and the weapon is being carried in the area, thus a stop and search is necessary; or weapons are being carried in the area without any good justification. Only 3% of stop and searches have been carried out under this authority.

During any of these stop and searches, you may be asked to remove clothing such as your jacket, coat or gloves. There is also a possibility of being asked to take off other items of clothing and religious clothing, but this can only be done by a police officer of the same sex and the removal must be done out of public sight. Additionally, your personal belongings may be searched and if you are in a vehicle, the officer will be entitled to search the vehicle.

Your Rights

When being stopped and searched, a police officer must tell you their name and the police station they are based at, what they are looking for, why they have chosen to stop you in particular, why they are legally allowed to stop and search you; and details about where you can find a copy of the record taken of the search.

If you believe that the officer is unlawfully conducting a stop and search, the record can be used to contact a local police station with any complaints. You can also ask for the police officer’s permission in order to video record the search being carried out.

Stay Calm

Y-stop, a stop and search project developed by young people, for young people, has noted tips for dealing with a stop and search:

  • staying calm at all times,
  • being polite,
  • asking any questions, you may have about the search,
  • obtaining a record to ensure the search has been conducted truthfully; and
  • recording the search (after receiving permission from the police officer).

If you are subject to a stop and search, the main thing to remember is to stay calm at all times and to remember your rights.

Links:

  1. Police Powers to Stop and Search: Your Rights
  2. STOP AND SEARCH – ADVICE AND INFORMATION
  3. What is stop and search and what are my rights?
  4. Your rights and responsibilities
  5. Stop and Search: The Process
  6. Operation of police powers under the Terrorism Act 2000 and subsequent legislation: Arrests, outcomes, and stop and search
  7. Video Link: Stop and Search: Know Your Rights, Just for Kids.

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