Frequently Asked Questions
Why do the police use stop and search?
The use of stop and search powers allow the police to tackle crime and keep our communities safe.
Stop and search is targeted and intelligence led, taking place predominantly in areas where serious acquisitive crime (burglary, vehicle crime and robbery) and violence is taking place and on people who are known or suspected to be involved in these crimes.
The police have the legal right to stop members of the public, and search them, for a variety of reasons. T here are 20 separate main statutory powers to stop and search but the vast majority of searches are conducted under section 1 of Police & Criminal Evidence Act 1984 and s23 Misuse of Drugs Act 1973. These powers require an officer to have ‘reasonable grounds to suspect' that an individual has the prohibited item in their possession.
Being stopped 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.
A police officer needs no reason to speak to you, however, they must have reasonable grounds for stopping and searching you; they are required to tell you what that reason is.
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.
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. This is often known as a ‘Section 60' search.
The term ‘Section 60' refers to Section 60 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994. This is a distinct power that allows officers to conduct searches without ‘reasonable suspicion' but only when a chief officer believes serious violence will occur; an order for a specified locality and time may be put in place for this to happen.
A good example is when the police have been warned that groups of rival football supporters are going to fight after a match and that both groups have used weapons at other fixtures where there has been violence. This could lead to those near the football ground being searched after the game.
Why have I been stopped?
There are a number of reasons why the police may stop and speak to you. There are plenty of occasions when you might talk to the police and most of these do not qualify as ‘stop and search'. Here are a few examples that you may encounter:
- Doing the right thing the right way - Police officers and PCSOs often speak with people in the street. This is an important part of their job. Talking to someone does not require a specific power and you will not be detained when you don't want to be in order to talk to us. This does not require any forms to be completed or a record to be made. We may decide to switch off a body worn video camera if recording your interaction would make you feel uncomfortable.
- Stop and search - when a police officer stops and then searches you, your clothes and anything you are carrying:
- If they think you're carrying a weapon, drugs, stolen property or articles to commit criminal damage
- If there has been serious violence or disorder in the area and a Section 60 authority is in place
- As part of anti-terrorism efforts
- Vehicle - a police officer can stop any vehicle and ask the driver for driving documents. This is not the purpose of stop and search but you may be given documentation relevant to road traffic matters. It becomes a stop search if a search of the vehicle, you or any passengers with you, is carried out.
What is a stop and search?
Only a police officer can stop and search you, your clothes and anything you are carrying.
You may be stopped because the officer may have grounds to suspect that you are carrying:
- Drugs, weapons or stolen property;
- Items that could be used:
- to commit crime
- to cause criminal damage
The grounds the police officer must have should be based on facts, information or intelligence, or could be because of the way you are behaving. There are times, however, when police officers can search anyone within a certain area, for example:-
- Where there is evidence that serious violence has or may take place. (Section 60/60aa Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994)
The police officer should explain this to you and must be searching for items that could be used in connection with violence or to ask you to remove face coverings that are believed to be intended to disguise your identity.
Who can stop me?
A police officer or a police community support officer can stop you.
PCSOs can only search where the use of powers under the terrorism act has been authorised by a senior officer or where a young person has refused to relinquish alcohol/tobacco products. A police community support officer must be in uniform and their powers are focused on dealing with anti-social behaviour.
A police officer does not have to be in uniform but if they are not wearing uniform they must show you their warrant card.
Where can I be searched?
In a public place anywhere, if the police believe you have committed or are about to commit a crime.
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.
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 does not mean you are being arrested. In this case, the police officer that searches you must be the same sex as you.
What if I am in a vehicle?
Your vehicle can be stopped at any time and you may be asked to show your driving documents, such as your driving licence.
A police officer can legally stop any vehicle at any time and ask to see the driver's licence. They can also ask where you are going and why. If the process ends there, this is considered a ‘vehicle stop'.
If, however, a police officer then tells you to step out of the vehicle and it is then searched, this is a ‘vehicle stop and search'.
What should I do if I am stopped and searched?
Everyone has a civic duty to help police officers prevent crime and catch offenders. The 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 responsibility to ensure that people's rights are protected. Everyone should expect to be treated fairly and with dignity and respect. In almost all cases, an individual should be given a record of the stop and search at the time it happens.
The police use these powers to help make the local community safer by disrupting crime - public co-operation is an essential part of that.
How should I react?
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. However, in the interest of public safety they must also be thorough.
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 can I expect from the officer searching me?
The officer must be polite, respectful and courteous at all times. Northamptonshire Police is committed to continuously improving standards around the delivery of service to its communities.
All stops and searches must be carried out with courtesy, consideration, dignity and respect. We are working towards using body worn video cameras whenever we stop search someone, if it is possible and appropriate in the circumstances.
A stop and search may take a little time but the process should be handled efficiently 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 cooperate, the officer can use reasonable force to conduct the search.
Police officers must use stop and search powers fairly, responsibly and without discrimination.
During a stop and search what information do the police have to give me?
The police who stop and search you must provide you with certain information including:
G- Grounds for the search
O- Object of the search
W - Warrant Card if they're not in uniform
I - Identity of who the officer is
S - Station the officer is from
E - Entitlement to a copy of the search record
L - Legal power being used to detain you
Y - You are being detained for the purpose of a search
During a stop and search what information will the police ask for?
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.
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 your ethnicity is if you don't want to, but the officer is required to record this on the form. The ethnicity question helps us and community representatives make sure the police are using their powers fairly and proportionately.
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 officer is required to complete a form. The completing and issuing of the search form does not amount to you having a police record.
What paperwork do I get after a stop and a stop and search?
You should receive a written record of the search at the time of the event. If you want to take our feedback survey or complain, either about being searched or the way it was carried out, this record will help identify the circumstances.
Supervisors at the police station also keep a copy of the search record. They use it to monitor the use of stop and search powers and check for any inappropriate use. Northamptonshire Police and the are making arrangements for community representatives to scrutinise their stop and search records.
Police may use the search record at a later date to contact you about anything that may have happened in that area around the time you were stopped.
You will normally be given a search record at the time of the event. However, because of operational demands (such as public order situations, large public events or if an officer is called to an emergency) you may be told where to collect the record later. A record must be made available for up to three months.
What information does the record contain?
The search record must contain the following information:
- The officer's 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 (if relevant)
- What the officers were looking for and anything they found
- Your name or a description if you refuse to give your name (you do not have to provide the officer with your name and address)