There are several grounds that the police may legally stop and search a person, however, most of the grounds are too complex to list here.
The grounds for stop and search that often concern members of the public are where the officer has reasonable grounds for suspicion that the person is in unlawful possession of, or has unlawfully obtained an article, is a terrorist, or to prevent an act of terrorism.
The fact that the officer knows that a person has previous convictions is not sufficient grounds for reasonable suspicion. Reasonable suspicious also cannot be formed on the person's age, race or sex alone. There must also be some specific information or intelligence, see below for examples of stop and search powers.
- EXAMPLES OF STOP AND SEARCH
Officer B is on patrol and is aware that there have been a number of robberies with the use of a knife in the area. Officer B sees a young man in a shop doorway who appears to put a folding knife inside the front of his trousers. When questioned about his behaviour, he becomes evasive and denies putting anything into his trousers. Officer B decides there are reasonable grounds to suspect that he will find stolen or prohibited articles.
- Can Officer B search him?
Officer B can search him in a public place but only outer clothing. In this instance, it will be necessary to go beyond outer clothing to find the concealed property. Therefore, if he is required to remove more than an outer coat, jacket or gloves, it must be done out of public view. "Out of public view" is not defined but the shop doorway is inappropriate, as would be a quiet street.
- Officer C is on patrol when she sees THOMAS, a well-known local house burglar who has numerous convictions walking towards her.
- Would Officer C have sufficient grounds to search him?
Officer C does not have reasonable grounds to search him. Previous convictions or other personal factors either alone or combined can never give the grounds to search someone. However, there is nothing to stop Officer C from approaching him and speaking to him. If he does not want to speak to her, then she has no power to detain him.
An officer must comply with several guidelines prior to and during a stop and search,
- the officer must tell the person the grounds for the search
- the officer must inform them of the object of search (to find drugs, offensive weapons etc)
- the officer must show the person their warrant card if in plain clothes or requested;
- the officer must tell the person their identity;
- the officer must also tell the person to which station they are attached,
- the officer must tell the person that they are being detained for the purpose of the search
All stops and searches must be carried out with courtesy, consideration and respect for the person concerned. The length of time for which a person or vehicle may be detained must be reasonable and kept to a minimum.
There are wider powers available to officers who suspect that a person is a terrorist and they do not have to comply with the above but they must reasonably suspect that the person is a terrorist.
For any concerns about the use of the stop and search powers, you should contact your local policing team via their 101 number.
This power to stop and search is aimed at preventing crime. This is an entirely different power than a road traffic stop, see Q723 for more details.