Frequently Asked Questions

Date published: 31 January 2020 11:06
Dated: 31 January 2020 11:06:05

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.

An officer can only search you if he or she has reasonable grounds to suspect they are 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. Our officers 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.

Vehicles: Our officers do have powers to search your vehicle, even if it is unattended. If this happens, we must leave a notice saying what we have done. If the search causes damage, you may apply for compensation and each application will be considered.

Removal of clothing: If you are in a public place, police officers can only require you to take off your jacket, outer clothing and 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 have I been stopped and searched?

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.

We 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. Officers form their suspicions based on 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 officer will tell you their suspicions and the reasons for them.

Stop and search enables us to quickly allay or confirm suspicion about individuals without the need to first make an arrest. The 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.

We must use stop and search powers fairly, responsibly and without discrimination.

What information am I entitled to?

Before the search takes place, we 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. Reasonable force may be used to detain you should you decide to leave or fail to comply with the search.

Officers are must inform you of the following details.

  • Identity of officer
  • The police station they are attached to
  • Objective / purpose of search
  • Grounds for search
  • Entitlement to copy of search record
  • Legal power used
  • Warrant card (if not in uniform)
  • The fact that you are detained for a search

Will I be recorded on Body Worn Video?

Yes. Where officers interact with the public in situations such as this, body worn video cameras will be in use.

The officer will inform you that you are being recorded, which they are legally obliged to do. This is to ensure officer safety, ensure an accurate record of the search has taken place and prevent complaints.

You are entitled to view the footage by submitting a subject access request if you wish to do so. If you are arrested or anything is found during the search then this video footage may be produced in court.

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.
  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 be 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 a credit card sized document showing a serial number which refers to your search.

You can apply for a copy of the search using this reference number 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.

What information is recorded on paper form or electronically?

As a minimum, officers are 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

Can officers 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 South Yorkshire 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

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.
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