Stop and search

To assist in the process of detecting and preventing crime in the local community, the police have been given a legal right to stop and search members of the public in certain circumstances.

What is stop and search?

Stop and search powers are contained in the Justice and Security (Northern Ireland) Act 2007 (2007 Act) and the Terrorism Act 2000 (TACT 2000).

Police officers can search you or your vehicle if they have reasonable grounds to do so. They must use the search powers fairly, responsibly and with respect for people. 

The police are not allowed to stop and search just because of your religion, race, age, the way you look, or the clothes that you're wearing.

The information on this page is summarised on an infographic which is available for download.

Who can stop and search you

Any police officer can stop and search you. If they are not in uniform they must identify themselves before the search takes place.  The stop and search action does not mean you are under arrest or that you’ve done something wrong. 

The reasons police can stop and search you

The police can stop and search you:

  • If there has been serious violence or disorder in the area
  • If the police are looking for a suspect who fits your description
  • If the police have reasonable grounds to suspect you’re carrying drugs, a weapon or stolen property
  • In countering terrorism

If you are stopped and searched

If you are stopped and searched the following applies:

  • You are required to stay for the full length of the search.
  • Police must make sure the search time is kept to a minimum.
  • The search must take place at or near to where you were stopped, unless moving you would protect your privacy.
  • Before a search, where practicable a police officer must tell you the grounds for the search, what they are looking for, their name (except where the stop and search is to do with terrorism) and the station that they’re attached to.
  • If you are in a public place, you will only be asked to remove your coat or jacket and any headgear or gloves worn, unless you have been stopped in relation to terrorism or where police believe you are using clothes to hide your identity. You may also be asked to empty your pockets and open any baggage to assist with the search process.
  • The police can only search you further if they have strong grounds to believe that you may be concealing a prohibited item or illegal substance and a more thorough search is required.  If this is the case, you have to be searched out of public view and the officer who performs the search must be the same sex as you.
  • The officer must explain how you get a copy of the search record.
  • Police officers are required to complete a record of the search electronically. After the search you will receive a card with your unique reference number and details of how to get a copy of the search record. The record will be available for you to request up to 12 months after the stop and search.

How to complain

If you think that you've been treated unfairly and feel you've only been stopped and searched because of:

  • your religion
  • your race
  • your appearance, or for no particular reason, you can make a complaint to the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland.

 

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