Know Your Rights: Stop and Search
The information produced in this article is intended for our UK readers. You may still find this article of use if you visit the United Kingdom but I would appreciate any overseas readers to send me information regarding your own laws in your country with regards to stop and search.
During a search, both you and the police have rights that are in place to protect both parties.
It is important to understand that the police can stop and question you whenever they want. However, they cant search you unless they suspect that you have carried out a crime, are carrying out a crime, or suspect that you are about to commit a crime.
A police officer does not need to be in uniform when they stop and question you but if they are not, they must show their warrant card (badge/ID). A police community support officer (PCSO) however, must always be in uniform when stopping and questioning anybody.
As of the 11th May, 2017, police in Scotland have a new stop and search code that must be followed. You can see this at here.
Stop and Question: Police Powers
There are a few reasons as to why a police officer may stop and question you but common questions that you may be asked include:
- What your name is
- What you’re doing in the area
- Where you’re going
Understand that by a police officer trying to stop and question you, it does not mean that you are under arrest. You do not have to answer any of their questions. Your refusal to stop and answer questions can not be used as a reason to search and/or arrest you.
Stop and Search: Police Powers
If a police officer has ‘reasonable grounds’ to suspect that you’re carrying any of the following items then they have the power to stop and search you. These items are:
- Illegal drugs
- A weapon
- Stolen property
- Something which could be used to commit a crime, such as a crowbar
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
There are certain things that a police officer must tell you before searching you. These are:
- 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
Removing Clothes: Police Powers
A police officer can ask you to take off your coat, jacket or gloves when you are stopped and searched. They might also ask you to take off other clothes and anything that you’re wearing for religious reasons – for example a veil or turban. If this is the case, they must take you somewhere out of public view.
If the officer wants to remove more than a jacket and gloves they must be the same sex as you.
Remember that being stopped and searched does not mean that you are being arrested. Your refusal to stop and answer questions can not be used as a reason to search and/or arrest you.