Stop and search
To help detect and prevent crime in the local community, the police have a legal right to stop and search people in public in certain circumstances.
Stop and search explained
Stop and search powers are police interventions to keep people safe. They are used to address drug offences, burglary, theft and terrorism. They allow police officers to 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 you're wearing.
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 doesn't mean you're 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 police are looking for a suspect who fits your description
- if police have reasonable grounds to suspect you’re carrying drugs, a weapon or stolen property
- in countering terrorism
What happens in a stop and search
If you're stopped and searched:
- you must stay for all of the search
- police must make sure the search time is as short as possible
- the search must take place where you were stopped or nearby, unless moving you would protect your privacy
Before a search, a police officer must tell you the grounds for the search, what they're looking for, their name (except where the stop and search is to do with terrorism) and the station they’re attached to.
If you're in a public place, you'll be asked to remove your coat or jacket and any headgear or gloves worn, unless the search is to do with terrorism or when police believe you're using clothes to hide your identity. They can ask you to empty your pockets and open any baggage to help the search.
Being searched away from public view
The police can only search you more thoroughly if they believe you might be hiding a banned item or illegal substance. They must search you out of public view. The officer doing the search must be the same sex as you.
Police officers must 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. You can ask for a copy of the record up to 12 months after the stop and search.
Results of the stop and search
A stop and search may result in:
- an arrest
- a community resolution
- a report to the Public Prosecution Service
- the issue of a penalty notice or disorder
How to complain
You can complain to the Police Ombudsman's Office 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
- no particular reason