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Stop and Search - frequently asked questions

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What does stop and search involve?

A stop and search is when a police officer stops you or your vehicle and searches you, your vehicle, your clothes or anything you are carrying. Officers must have a good reason for stopping you and they should tell you what this is.

A police officer can only search you if he or she has reasonable grounds to suspect they’re likely to find:

  • Drugs
  • Weapons
  • Stolen property
  • Items which could be used to commit burglary, theft or deception
  • Certain types of firework
  • Evidence of game and wildlife offences
  • Alcohol at or on route to a designated sporting event
  • Items made, adapted or intended to damage or destroy property
  • Articles connected with terrorism

Respect for you

All stop and searches must be carried out with courtesy and consideration. The police should treat you with respect and make every reasonable effort to minimise any embarrassment you may experience during the search. However, stop and search is not voluntary and police officers do not need your permission to search you or your belongings. If you refuse to cooperate, you can be searched by force.

We are aware that a search may take a little time but the process should be handled quickly and professionally. Your cooperation will assist with this.


Police officers have powers to search your vehicle, even if it is unattended. If this happens, the police must leave a notice saying what they have done. If the search causes damage you may apply for compensation and each application will be considered on its merit.

Removal of Clothing

If you are in a public place, police officers can only require you to take off:

  • Jacket
  • Outer clothing
  • Gloves 

If more items need to be removed, this must be done out of public view, for example, a police station. This does not mean you are being arrested.

If you are being searched under section 60 stop and search powers (this officer will explain this to you at the time), you could be required to remove additional items in public.

Where there are religious sensitivities about the removal of such an item or headgear for example a face scarf, veil or turban, the police officer should permit their removal out of public view. Where practicable, the officer should be of the same sex.

In any event, if you are required to remove more than an outer coat, jacket, gloves, headgear, footwear or any other item concealing your identity, then the searching Officer must be of the same sex.

Why me?

  • Being searched does not mean you are under arrest or have done something wrong. In some cases, people are stopped as part of a wide-ranging effort to catch criminals in a targeted public place.
  • You should not be stopped solely because of your age, race, ethnic background, nationality, faith, gender, sexual orientation, or disability, the language you speak or because you have committed a crime in the past.
  • A Police Officer must have a good reason to suspect that you are in possession of articles that could amount to evidence of an offence before searching you. Police Officers form their suspicions on the basis of what they have seen or heard, information from colleagues or members of the public and information from police intelligence systems. It might be for example that they are looking for a suspect who fits your description. Whatever the case, the Police Officer will tell you their suspicions and the reasons for them.
  • ‘Stop and Search’ enables Police Officers to quickly allay or confirm suspicion about individuals without the need to first make an arrest. The Police Officer may ask you a few questions before a search takes place, as this may quickly dispel the suspicions removing the necessity to carrying out the search.
  • Police Officers must use ‘Stop and Search’ powers fairly, responsibly and without discrimination.

What information am I entitled to?

Before the search takes place, the police officer will tell you that you have been detained for the purpose of a search. Although this does not mean you have been arrested, you must remain with the police officer until the search has been completed. The length of time you are detained must be reasonable and kept to a minimum.

Officers are trained to GO WISELY. They must tell you:

  • Grounds for search
  • Object / purpose of search
  • Warrant card (if not in uniform)
  • Identity of Officer
  • Station - office is attached to
  • Entitlement to copy of search record
  • Legal power used
  • You are detained for a search

Can I be handcuffed?

The police officer can handcuff someone who is compliant during a stop and search but they must justify their reasons, e.g

  • they believe the person who has been stopped may be hiding items
  • they believe the person being stopped may attempt to run off
  • they believe the person being stopped may become violent 

Does this mean I have a police record?

No. The Officer is required to make a record of the search but this does not amount to you having a police record.

Can a Police Community Support Officer (PCSO) conduct a search?

PCSOs have limited powers to search individuals and can only conduct searches under the following two situations.

1. Under the Police Reform Act 2000, PCSOs can search individuals for alcohol and tobacco but only with that person’s consent.

2.  Under the Terrorism Act 2000, PCSOs can conduct searches of vehicles under powers authorised by an Assistant Chief Constable who considers it necessary to prevent acts of terrorism, providing that the PCSO is under the supervision of a police officer.

What happens after the search?

The Police and Criminal Evidence Act (PACE) requires police officers to make a record of every search they conduct at the time. You will be asked if you want a copy and if you do, you will be provided with one.

You can apply for a copy within three months of the search taking place. If you are arrested and taken to a police station, the details of the search will be recorded as part of your custody record instead.

The record may be recorded on a paper form or electronically. As a minimum, the police officer is legally required to record:

1.   Date, time and place of the search;
2.   Your self defined ethnicity (if provided) / observed ethnicity;
3.   What they were looking for;
4.   Their grounds for searching you / legal power or authority used;
5.   The officer’s details;

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.

You do not have to say what it is if you don’t want to, but the officer is legally required to record this on the form. The ethnicity question helps ensure the police are using their powers fairly.

I've been stopped and searched. How do I make a complaint?

Your experiences and opinions of stop and search are important to us. You can share your thoughts, good or bad, through our Community Feedback section

Can Police conduct searches in relation to acts of terrorism?

Under Section 47a of The Terrorism Act (2000) (Remedial) Order 2011, an authorisation  to stop and search may be made by an Officer of at least Assistant Chief Constable rank where they reasonably suspect that an act of terrorism will take place in a specified area and the search is necessary to prevent it.

This power allows Officers to stop and search pedestrians and vehicles and search anything carried by a pedestrian, any vehicle, anything carried by a driver or passenger or anything on or in a vehicle.  The power does not allow for the searching of people or their clothing.

The Secretary of State must be notified and give their authorisation if it is to remain in force beyond 48 hours.

PCSOs in Bedfordshire have the power to conduct such searches providing they are in the company of a constable who is supervising them.

Any person or vehicle in a specified area may be searched without the Police Officer or PCSO needing to have reasonable grounds for each vehicle searched.

Other types of police encounters

All citizens have a civic duty to help the police prevent crime and discover. Police Officers and PCSOs can stop and talk to you at any time and not all encounters result in a person being searched.   Being spoken to does not necessarily mean that you have done something wrong.

You should be treated with respect and dignity.

You have not been officially ‘stopped’ if, for example:

  • An Officer approaches you and chats about local issues and priorities
  • You have witnessed a crime and are questioned about it to establish the background to the incident
  • You have been in an area where a crime recently occurred and are questioned about what you might have seen

In addition to ‘Stop and Search’, you may also experience being stopped whilst driving.

  • VEHICLE STOP - The Road Traffic Act 1988 provides a police Officer with the power to stop a vehicle at any time; to require a driver to produce his or her driving license and other documents; and also to require a breath test under certain circumstances. The Officer may also speak to you about other road traffic offences that you may have committed.
  • Remember, if you or your vehicle is searched, the encounter becomes a ‘Stop and Search’.

This is a guide to the 'stop and search' procedures. It does not cover all of the law.

What information is recorded on paper form or electronically and can I get a copy?

As a minimum, a police officer is legally required to record:

  • Date, time and place of the search
  • Your self defined ethnicity (if provided) / observed ethnicity
  • What they were looking for
  • Their grounds for searching you / legal power or authority used
  • The officer's details

You do not have to give your personal details. However, if you would like a receipt of the search you will need to provide some details as all receipts are electronically recorded. The officer would need an email address or mobile number.

If you did not get a receipt at the time of the search, you can go in to a police station within 14 days of the search and a receipt will be given to you.

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