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What To Do When Stop And Searched By Police

Between December 2022 and April 2023, in the Metropolitan Police Area, 62,196 stop and searches took place. 72.05% resulted in no further action and just 14.31% ended in arrest. In this same area and time frame, black people were three times more likely to be stop and searched than white people. However, despite statistical evidence of stop and searches ineffectiveness and racist application against black people, the government is calling for its increased use, with the expansion of stop and search through the 2023 Public Order Act.

Given the continued pursuit of over-policing policies, it is important to know what your rights are if you are stopped by the police.

Am I being stop and searched? What type of stop and search is it?

There are three types of stop and searches conducted by police – stop and account, suspicion-based stop and search and suspicion-less stop and search.

Stop and Account

There is no legal basis for stop and account. If you are unsure whether you have been stopped and searched, ask the officer if they are going to detain you, if the answer is no, it is not a stop and search. You do not have to answer their questions and you can leave.

Suspicion based stop and search

This where the police stop and question you, if they believe there are reasonable grounds to suspect you are carrying stolen goods or prohibited articles such as:

  • Stolen property;
  • Drugs;
  • A weapon;
  • Illegal fireworks; or
  • Anything that can be used to commit burglary, theft, fraud or criminal damage .

Reasonable grounds are defined in Code A of PACE 1984. It is an objective standard, i.e., that based on the information or intelligence the officer is using to conduct the stop and search, a member of the public would reach the same conclusion on the same information or intelligence.

Suspicion-less stop and search

A Suspicion-less stop and search can occur under Section 60 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 or because of a Serious Violence Reduction Order.

Under a Section 60 search, reasonable suspicion is not needed to search you. However, it can only be conducted by a police officer in uniform with the authorisation of the rank of inspector or above. This authorisation can last for 24 hours and may be extended for another 24 if needed by an officer of a rank of superintendent or above.

When conducting a section 60 search the officer authorising the search must reasonably believe that:

  1. An incident of serious violence may happen in the officer’s area and that authorisation to conduct this search will prevent further incidents; or
  2. An incident of serious violence has happened in the officer’s area, that weapon is in the area and that this authorization to conduct this search will help find the weapon
  3. Weapons or dangerous instruments are being carried without good reason.

If a Serious Violence Reduction Order has been made against you, the police do not need reasonable suspicion to search you. However, in order to conduct a search, they need to verify your identity and check if an order has been made against you. If they cannot do this, they can search you under section 60 or if they have reasonable suspicion.

What can I do if I am stop and searched by the police?

If the police are conducting a stop and search, there are certain rules they must follow which can be remembered using this helpful acronym:

Grounds – If it is a suspicion-based search, the police must explain why they are searching you.

Object – The police must explain what they are looking for by searching you.

Warrant Card – The police must show you this.

Identification – The police must give you their name and warrant/shoulder number.

Station – The police must tell you which police station they work out of.

Entitlement – The police must give you a copy of the search record or tell you how to get a copy of the search record (remember for section 60 searches you have a year to request this but for suspicion-based searches it is 3 months. If requesting body worn video of stop and searches, it is usually only kept for 30 days.)

Lawful – The police must tell you the legal basis for the search.

You are detained for the purposes of a search – The police must tell you this otherwise it is a stop and account and you can leave.

Points to Note

Your detention during a stop and search must be reasonable and kept to a minimum.

You cannot be asked to remove anything more than outer clothing and the police can search your pockets. If the police want to conduct a search necessitating the removal of any other items of clothing this may only be done by an officer of the same sex as the person being searched and away from public view.

If you want to record your stop and search, you can do this using Y-Stop from Release in partnership with StopWatch who will record the stop and search and will let you complain directly to the police if you have been mistreated.

You can also make a complaint by telephone or in writing to the officers’ police station however, these need to be made within 6 months of the stop and search occurring.

The stop and search powers in relation to protest are not yet in force, however you can take the same steps as above to ensure your rights are upheld, that you are treated fairly and with respect by the police.

If you would like to find out more regarding your rights if you are stopped by the police, contact our expert Crime Team now on 0808 271 9413 or request a call back. 

Further Reading