Police powers to stop and search: your rights

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The police have powers to stop and question you at any time – they can search you depending on the situation.

A police community support officer (PCSO) must be in uniform when they stop and question you. A police officer doesn’t always have to be in uniform but if they’re not wearing uniform they must show you their warrant card.

Stop and question: police powers

A police officer has powers to stop you at any time and ask you:

what you’re doing
why you’re in an area and/or where you’re going
However, you don’t have to answer any questions the police officer asks you.

Stop and search: police powers

A police officer has powers to stop and search you if they have ‘reasonable grounds’ to suspect you’re carrying:

  • illegal drugs
  • a weapon
  • stolen property
  • something which could be used to commit a crime, eg a crowbar
  • You can only be stopped and searched without reasonable grounds if it has been approved by a senior police officer. This can happen if it is suspected that:
  • serious violence could take place
  • you’re carrying a weapon or have used one
  • you’re in a specific location or area
  • Before you’re searched

Before you’re searched the police officer must tell you:

  • their name and police station
  • what they expect to find, eg drugs
  • the reason they want to search you, eg it looks like you’re hiding something
  • why they are legally allowed to search you
  • that you can have a record of the search and if this isn’t possible at the time, how you can get a copy
  • Removing clothing: police powers

A police officer can ask you to take off your coat, jacket or gloves.

The police might ask you to take off other clothes and anything you’re wearing for religious reasons – eg a veil or turban. If they do, they must take you somewhere out of public view.

If the officer wants to remove more than a jacket and gloves they must be the same sex as you.

Being searched doesn’t mean you’re being arrested.

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