Frequently Asked Questions
Why do the police in London use stop and search?
The use of stop and search powers allow the police to tackle crime (particularly violent crime) and keep our streets safe.
Stop and search is targeted and intelligence led, taking place predominantly in areas where violence is taking place and on people who are known or suspected to be involved in violent crime.
The police have the legal right to stop members of the public and search them for a variety of reasons and using a number of powers, including:
Section 60 Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, gives police the right to search persons in a defined area at a specific time when they believe, with good reason, that: there is the possibility of serious violence; or that a person is carrying a dangerous object or offensive weapon; or that an incident involving serious violence has taken place and a dangerous instrument or offensive weapon used in the incident is being carried in the locality. This law has to be authorised by a senior officer and is used mainly to tackle gang related violence.
Across London you may encounter three different police forces, the Metropolitan Police Service, City of London Police and the British Transport Police. Officers from these three forces, at various times, work together on specific crime and terrorist operations.
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 must have a good reason for stopping and/or searching you and they are required to tell you what that reason is.
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 may take place, (Powers under section 60 Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994). The officer should explain this to you and must be searching for items to be used in connection with violence
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.
The police can stop or stop and search you:
- 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 vicinity and a s.60 authority is in place
- As part of anti-terrorism efforts
What is a stop?
There are three different types of stops that you may encounter:
1. Stop and account - when a police officer or police community support officer stops you in a public place and asks you to account for yourself and may ask you the following questions:
- What you are doing
- Where have you been
- Where you are going
- What you are carrying
2. Stop and search - when a police officer stops and then searches you, your clothes and anything you are carrying.
3. Vehicle stop - 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 if:
- you or any passengers with you are asked to account for themselves; or
- a search is carried out of the vehicle, you or any passengers with you.
You will not necessarily be searched every time you are stopped. Sometimes you may just be stopped and questioned.
The police officer or police community support officer must explain why you are being stopped and held to account for your actions or presence in an area.
There are plenty of occasions when you might talk to police, and most of these do not qualify as either a ‘stop and account’ or ‘stop and search’.
You have not been subject to stop and account if, for example:
- You stop an officer to ask for directions or information
- 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
In cases such as those, you have not been stopped for the purposes described on this website, a record of the encounter will not be made and you will not be given a receipt.
What is a stop and search?
Only a police officer can stop and go onto search you, your clothes and anything you are carrying
You may be stopped as the officer may have grounds to suspect that you are carrying:
Drugs, weapons, stolen property or fireworks;
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 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.
Who can stop me?
A police officer or a police community support officer.
A police community support officer must be in uniform. A police officer does not have to be in uniform but if they are not wearing uniform and they search you they must show you their warrant card.
Where can I be searched?
Stop and search predominantly takes place in public places, however, there are some powers e.g. to search for firearms and drugs, which allow police to search persons anywhere.
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 drivers 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're 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 or/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 or 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 or 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 responsibility. In almost all cases, an individual should be given a record of the stop or 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. But in the interest of public safety they must also be thorough.
Remember, you are not under arrest.
Don't refuse to be stopped or/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 stopping or searching me?
The officer must be polite and respectful at all times. The Metropolitan Police are committed to continuously improving standards around the delivery of service to London’s communities.
All stops and stops and searches must be carried out with courtesy, consideration and respect.
We are aware that the process may take a little time but the process should be handled quickly 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:
- Their name and the station where they work (unless the search is in relation to suspected terrorist activity or giving his or her name may place the officer in danger. They must then give a warrant card or identification number)
- The law under which you have been stopped
- Your rights
- Why you have been stopped and searched
- Why they chose you
- What they are looking for
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 or 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 required to record this on the form. The ethnicity question help community representatives make sure the police are using their powers fairly and properly.
What paperwork do I get after a stop and a stop and search?
You should receive a written record of the search or a receipt at the time of the event. If you want to complain either about being stopped or searched or the way it was carried out, this record / receipt 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 stop and search powers and check for any inappropriate use. The police service must also make arrangements for community representatives to look at 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 (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 3 months.
What information does the record contain?
The search record must contain the following information:
- The officer 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.
Is this a criminal record?
No. The fact that you have been stopped and/or searched does not amount to you having a criminal record.