Stop & Search FAQs

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Why do we need Stop and Search? - Know your Rights

The stop and search laws are designed to keep everybody safe, including you. They are not intended to harass or intimidate you, and can help the police detect crime and make our communities safer.

Source: The above video was produced by the British Transport Police for  Leicestershire Police.


  1. Why do we do it?
  2. Who can stop you?
  3. What is a stop?
  4. What is a Stop & Search?
  5. Where can I be stopped and searched?
  6. What if I am in a vehicle?
  7. What happens if I am stopped and searched?
  8. Your right to a form
  9. How can I complain?


Why do we do it?

Stop & Search can help the police detect crime and make our communities safer.

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Who can stop you?

  • A police officer
  • A police community support officer (PCSO)

A PCSO must be in uniform. A police officer does not have to be in uniform, but if they are not wearing uniform they must show you their identity card.

You should not be stopped or searched just because of your age, race, gender, sexual orientation, disability, religion, faith, the way you look or dress, the language you speak or because you have committed a crime in the past.

If you believe this is the only reason why you were stopped or searched, you can complain.

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What is a stop?

A ‘stop’ is when a police officer or PCSO stops you and asks you to account for yourself. That is if they ask you to tell them:

  • What you are doing?
  • Why you are in an area or where you are going?
  • What you are carrying?

Not every time a police officer or PCSO talks to you will count as a stop. For example, if the officer:

  • Is looking for witnesses
  • Asks you for general information about an incident
  • Is giving you directions

This does not count as a stop.

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What is a Stop & Search?

This is when a police officer stops you and searches you, your clothes and anything you are carrying.

You can only be stopped and searched if a police officer has good reason to suspect you are carrying:

  • Drugs, weapons or stolen property
  • Items which could be used to commit a crime; to commit an act of terrorism or to cause criminal damage

This good reason should be based on facts, information or intelligence or could be because of the way you are behaving.

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

  • When there is evidence that serious violence could take place there
  • Where a terrorist threat has been identified

The officer should explain this to you and must be searching for items which could be used in connection with violence or terrorism.

PCSOs have powers (in certain circumstances) to seize alcohol, tobacco, controlled drugs, or items used to harass, alarm or distress members of the public. In support of this they have the power (in certain circumstances) to search for alcohol and tobacco and to seize these, or any controlled drugs found while searching for alcohol or tobacco. In these circumstances the PCSO will complete a stop & search form.

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Where can I be stopped and searched?

  • In a public place
  • Anywhere if the police believe you have committed 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 police 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 who searches you must be the same sex as you.

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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 licence.

The police can search your vehicle if they have good reason to think it contains:

  • Stolen goods
  • Drugs
  • Weapons

They can search your vehicle at any time, even if you are not there but must leave a notice saying what they have done. If the search causes damage to your car, you can ask for compensation but only if the police didn’t find anything to connect you to a crime.

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What happens if I am stopped and searched?

 Before you are searched, the police officer should tell you:

  • That you must wait to be searched
  • What law they are using and your rights
  • Their name
  • The station they work at
  • Why they chose you
  • What they are looking for
  • That you have a right to be given a form straightaway showing details of the stop and search

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Your right to a form

If you are stopped and searched the officer must fill in a form and give it to you straightaway unless, for example, they are called away to an emergency. In this case you can get a copy from a police station anytime within 3 months.

The officer must record:

  • Your name or a description of you
  • Your date of birth or age
  • Your self-defined ethnic background
  • When and where you were stopped or searched
  • The names and/or numbers of the officers
  • What they were looking for and anything they found
  • What action they are taking (if any) as a result of the stop & search

The police officer will ask you for your name, address and date of birth. You do not have to give this information if you don’t want to, unless the officer says they are reporting you for an offence. If this is the case you could be arrested if you don’t tell them. You will also be asked to say what your ethnic background is from an Office of National Statistics list, which the officer will show you. You do not have to say what it is if you don’t want to. But this information is used to show if the police are stopping or searching people just because of their race or ethnicity.

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How can I complain?

The police should treat you fairly and with respect. If you are unhappy with how you were treated, you can complain. If you feel you were treated differently because of your race, age, sexuality, gender, disability, religion or faith, you can complain of unlawful discrimination. It will help if you keep the form that the police gave you. You can get advice from or complain to:

  • A police station
  • The Police and Crime Commissioner
  • A Citizen’s Advice Bureau
  • Your local Racial Equality Council
  • The Independent Office for Police Conduct
  • A solicitor

If you have difficulty understanding English or if you are deaf, the police must take reasonable steps to ensure you understand your rights.


Head of Equality & Diversity
Devon & Cornwall Police
Police Headquarters
Middlemoor, Exeter

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