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Stop and Search Explained

As part of our efforts to continuously improve services to the communities of Staffordshire we have changed our stop and search procedures and practices to make it more fair and effective to help increase public confidence. Here is all you need to know about Stop and Search.

What is a Stop and Search?

Stop and search is when a police officer stops and then searches you, your clothes and anything you are carrying. Only a police officer can stop and carry out a search.

PCSO Neil Williams 16301 Incident VanVEHICLE - a police officer can stop any vehicle and ask the driver for driving documents. This is not a stop and search, but you may be given documentation relevant to road traffic matters. It becomes a stop and search if you or any of the occupants or the vehicle are then searched.

You will not necessarily be searched every time you are stopped. Sometimes you may just be stopped and questioned.

You may be stopped if the officer has reasonable grounds to suspect that you could be carrying something of relevance for example:

  • drugs
  • weapons
  • stolen property
  • items that could be used to commit crime or cause criminal damage
  • because of the way you are behaving

There are times, however, when police officers can search anyone within a certain area, for example:

The powers of 'stop and search' must be used fairly, responsibly, with respect for people being searched and without unlawful discrimination. The Equality Act 2010 makes it unlawful for police officers to discriminate against, harass or victimise any person on the grounds of the 'protected characteristics' of age, disability, gender reassignment, race, religion or belief, sex and sexual orientation, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity when using their powers.

When police forces are carrying out their functions they also have a duty to have regard to the need to eliminate unlawful discrimination, harassment and victimisation and to take steps to foster good relations.

As part of our efforts to continuously improve services to the communities of Staffordshire we have changed our stop and search procedures and practices to make it more fair and effective to help increase public confidence.

Why is Stop and Search Used?

Police Cap and Police Helmet on a Hi-Vis JacketThe use of stop and search powers allow the police to tackle crime and anti-social behaviour, and to prevent more serious crimes occurring.

Generally stop and search happens in public places - for example - in the area around football matches or in neighbourhoods that have been experiencing problems with crime or vandalism.

The police have the legal right to stop members of the public and search them for a variety of reasons and using a number of powers, including:

What Can I Expect?

The Standard Uniform of a Police OfficerAll stops and searches must be carried out with courtesy, consideration and respect.

  • The officer must be polite and respectful at all times.
  • We are aware that the process may take a while, however the process should be handled quickly and professionally.
  • The police officer will ask a few questions and then if necessary search you.
  • The search is not voluntary. If you do not co-operate the officer can use reasonable force to conduct the search.
  • Police officers must use their stop and search powers fairly, responsibly and without discrimination.

What Should I do if I am Stopped and Searched?

PCSO Gill Murphy 6489 + PC Paul Cotton 5327The fact that the police may have stopped someone does not mean they are guilty of an offence.

Apart from the inconvenience, people may feel irritated that they've been stopped when they haven't done anything wrong- that's completely understandable. However, the stop and search will be much quicker if a person co-operates with police officers.

It's up to you whether you provide your name and address. You don't have to, but the best advice is that you should co-operate with the police.

Don't forget that the stop and search must be carried out according to strict rules - the police have a responsibility to ensure that people's rights are protected. Everyone should expect to be treated fairly and responsibly. The police use these powers to help make the local community safer by disrupting crime - public co-operation is an essential part of that.

Where Can I be Searched?

Being searched does not mean you are being arrested. You can be stopped anywhere if the police believe you have committed or been apart of an offence.

If you are in a public place, you only have to take off your coat or jacket and your gloves, unless you have been stopped in relation to terrorism or where the officer believes you are using clothes to hide your identity.

Many people customarily cover their heads or faces for religious reasons - for example, Muslim women, Sikh men, Sikh or Hindu women, or Rastafarian men or women.

A police officer cannot order the removal of a head or face covering except where there is reason to believe that the item is being worn by the individual wholly or mainly for the purpose of disguising identity, not simply because it disguises identity (ie. the individual intends to hide their identity).

Where there may be religious sensitivities about ordering the removal of such an item, the officer should permit the item to be removed out of public view. Where practicable, the item should be removed in the presence of an officer of the same sex as the person and out of sight of anyone of the opposite sex.

How Should I React?

PC male and female officer walking outside down an alleyway daylightBe patient

The police are aware that being searched is an inconvenience, and that you're probably in a hurry to get where you're going. They should make the search as brief as possible. But in the interest of public safety they must also be thorough.

Be calm

  • Remember, you are not under arrest.
  • Don't refuse to be stopped and searched.
  • The process is not voluntary - the law gives police the authority to stop and search.
  • Officers do not need your permission to go through your belongings- if you refuse, you can be searched by force.
  • Try to stay calm and don't be afraid to speak to the officer if you think your rights are being infringed.

What if I am in a Vehicle?

Police car BMW monitoring motorway trafficA police officer can legally stop any vehicle at any time and ask to see the driver's licence. They can also ask where you're going and why. If the process ends there, this is considered a 'vehicle stop' under Section 163 Road Traffic Act 1988. However, if a police officer then tells you to step out of the vehicle and it is then searched, this is a 'vehicle stop and search.'

Who Can Stop Me?

PCSO cap blue

  • A police officer or Police Community Support Officer (PCSO).
  • A police officer does not have to be in uniform but if they are not wearing uniform they must show you their warrant card.
  • Only a Police Officer can go on to search you.

Why Me?

PCSO Neil Williams 16301 High Angle ExposedBeing stopped by the police does not mean you are under arrest or have done anything wrong. In some cases, people are stopped as a part of a wide- ranging effort to catch criminals in a targeted public area.

A police officer must have a "reasonable grounds for suspicion" for stopping and searching you and they are required to tell you what that reason is.
 
There are, however, occasions when the police can search anyone in a certain area, for example when there is evidence that serious violence has taken place or will take place, (Powers under Section 60 Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994). The officer should explain this to you and must be searching for items to be used in connection with violence.
 
You should not be stopped just because of your age, race, ethnic background, nationality, faith, the language you speak or because you have committed a crime in the past.
 
The police can stop and search you:

  • If they have reasonable grounds to suspect you're carrying a weapon, drugs or stolen property.
  • If there has been serious violence or disorder in the vicinity.
  • If they are looking for a suspect who fits your description.
  • As part of anti-terrorism efforts.

What Information Do I Receive?

Hi-Vis Police JacketThe police who stop and search you must provide you with certain information.

  • They must tell you that you have been detained for stop and search purposes.
  • Their name and the station where they work (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 a warrant card or identification number.
  • The name of the law in which they have stopped you under.
  • Your rights.
  • Why you have been stopped and searched.
  • Why they chose you.
  • What they are looking for.
  • You will be offered a receipt card of your search, this will give you information of where you can then obtain a copy of your search record within three months from a Staffordshire Police Station/Public Enquiry Office (during opening times).

What Information Does the Record Contain?

The record of the stop search will contain details of both parties.

PC Paul Cotton 5327 PortraitIncluding:

  • The officer details.
  • The date, time and place of the stop and search.
  • The reason for the stop and search.
  • The outcome of the stop and search.
  • Your self-defined ethnicity.
  • The vehicle registration number (VRN) (if recorded).
  • What the officers were looking for and anything they found.
  • Your name, address, age and your date of birth.
  • A description of you and what you were wearing.
  • If the officer used body worn video to record the stop and search.
  • If you were asked to remove your outer clothing for the search to take place.

What Information Will the Police Ask For?

The police have a legal requirement to include certain information from individuals who have been stopped and searched.

PCSO on patrol in town centreThis includes:

  • Date and time of the stop and search.
  • Location of the stop and search.
  • Why they stopped you, the grounds.
  • What they were looking for.
  • Names of the officers conducting the search.

Age and Date of Birth

The police officer will ask for your name and address and date of birth. You do not have to give this information if you don't want to; unless the police officer says they are reporting you for an offence.

Ethnicity

Everyone who is stopped and searched will be asked to define his or her ethnic background. You can choose from a list of national census categories that the officer will show you.

It's Your Choice

You do not have to say what it is if you don't want to, but the officer is required to record this on the form. The ethnicity question helps community representatives make sure the police are using their powers fairly and properly.

Is this a Police Record?

The fact that you are stopped and searched does not mean that you are under arrest or have done anything wrong.

The stop and search process requires the officer to record the details of the search and then offer you a receipt, so that, if desired, you can arrange to receive a paper copy of the information. This does not amount to you having a police record.

Your Opinion Counts

PCSO Shannon Parsons 23996 Walking for Health VolunteersWe welcome feedback from members of the public who are stopped and searched.

The feedback we receive will be used to help us improve our use of this important crime fighting tactic. If you have been stop searched recently, we would like to hear about your experience.

Do you have a question about stop and search in Staffordshire? Want to give us your comments? Use this form to get in touch.

This is a feedback form only and any formal complaint about the way you've been stop searched should be passed on either by Making a Complaint, going into a police station or calling 101.