A police officer or a police community support officer (PCSO) in uniform can stop you but only police officers can search you. A police officer does not have to be in uniform but they must show you their warrant (ID) card.
The three types of stops you may encounter
Stop and account
This is when a police officer or PCSO stops you in a public place and asks you to account for yourself and may ask you:
- what you're doing
- where you've been
- where you're going
- what you're carrying
Stop and search
This when a police officer stops and then searches you, a vehicle and anything you're carrying.
This is when a police officer stops a vehicle.
What will happen
What you should be told
The police officer or police community support officer must explain why you're being stopped and why you're being asked to account for your actions or presence in an area.
In almost all cases, you should be offered a record of the stop and account or stop and search at the time it happens.
The police use these powers to help make the local community safer by preventing and detecting crime. Naturally, public cooperation is an essential part of that.
Where you can be searched
Stop and search most often happens in public places. However, there are some powers, such as searching for firearms or drugs, which allow police to search people anywhere.
If you're in a public place, you may be required to remove your coat or jacket and your gloves, unless you've been stopped in relation to terrorism or where the officer believes you are using clothes to hide your identity.
If the officer asks you to take off more than this, or anything you wear for religious reasons, such as a face scarf, veil or turban, they must take you somewhere out of public view. This doesn’t mean you’re being arrested.
What to expect from the officer stopping or searching you
The officer must be polite and respectful at all times. We are committed to continuously improving standards around the delivery of service to our communities.
We're aware that the process may take a little time but it should be handled quickly and professionally. The police officer may ask a few questions and then, if they consider it necessary, will search you.
The search is not voluntary. If you don’t cooperate the officer can use reasonable force to conduct the search.
If the officer has a body worn video camera they'll record the encounter unless it's considered no longer necessary or proportionate.
If you're in a vehicle
A police officer can legally stop any vehicle at any time and ask to see driving documents, check the condition of the vehicle or deal with driving offences. This is not a stop and search and you may be given documentation relevant to road traffic matters. If the entire process ends there, this is considered a ‘vehicle stop'.
It becomes a stop and account if you or any passengers with you are asked to account for themselves.
If a police officer then searches the vehicle or persons in it, this is a stop and search.
Information you'll receive during a stop and search
The police officer who stops and searches you must provide you with certain information including:
- why you've been stopped and searched
- why they chose you
- what they're looking for
- their name and the station where they’re based (unless the search is in relation to suspected terrorist activity or giving his or her name may place the officer in danger. They must then give their warrant ID number)
- the law under which you've been stopped
- your right to a copy of the their form
The information you'll be asked for
The police officer will ask for your:
- name and address
- date of birth
You don't have to give this information if you don't want to; unless the police officer says they're reporting you for an offence.
Paperwork you'll be given
You should be offered a written record of the stop and search or a receipt at the time of the event, or very occasionally you may be told where to collect the record later.
If you wish to complain either about being stopped or searched or the way it was carried out, this record/receipt will help identify the circumstances.
The search record must contain the following information:
- the officer's details
- date, time and place of the stop and search
- reason for the stop and search
- outcome of the stop and search
- your self-defined ethnicity
- vehicle registration number (if relevant)
- what the officer was looking for and anything they found
- your name or a description if you refuse to give your name
You've not been subject to a stop and search if, for example:
- you're searched as a condition of entry to premises or an event
- you're searched following an arrest
- you're searched in premises that are being searched under a warrant from a court
In cases like these, a stop and search record will not be made and you'll not be given a receipt.
You've not been subject to stop and account if, for example:
- you stop an officer to ask for directions or information
- you've witnessed a crime and are questioned about it to establish the background to the incident
- you've been in an area where a crime recently occurred and are questioned about what you might have seen
In cases like these, a record of the encounter will not be made and you'll not be given a receipt.