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Police Stop and Search Powers

What are police powers to stop and search? UK police officers have the legal authority to stop and question you at any time. This page explains your rights on the police powers of search and questioning. Further information also clarifies the 'stop and account' procedure.

POLICE SEARCH POWERS UK: If the police stop and question you they can only carry out a search in certain situations.

There is no legal requirement for a police officer to be in uniform to stop and question you.

But the police must show you their official warrant card if they are not wearing a police uniform.

A PCSO is a police community support officer. But in fact they are not attested constables.

That means PCSOs do not have as much authority or powers of arrest. But they can use the ‘any person’ powers of arrest to stop and question you. If a PCSO stops and questions you they must be wearing their police uniform to continue with their questioning.

Police Powers to Stop and Question

UK police powers give officers the legal right to stop and question you at any time. It is an integral part of normal police work and their duties. While you are dealing with a police encounter the officer can ask:

  • What is your name?
  • What are you doing?
  • Why are you in a certain area or location?
  • Where are you going?

Note: You do not have to answer any questions that a police officer asks you. Some rules of police search powers differ in Scotland.

Police Stop and Search Laws UK

A police officer can stop and search you providing they have ‘reasonable grounds’ to suspect you are carrying:

  • Anything resembling offensive weapons (e.g. knives)
  • Anything that could be used to commit a crime (e.g. a metal crowbar)
  • Illegal drugs
  • Stolen property (e.g. a mobile phone)

Note: The Government outlined further details about Serious Violence Reduction Orders. SVROs grant the police new stop and search powers for convicted knife criminals.

There are certain situations where you can get stopped and searched without reasonable grounds. But, the search must get approved by a senior police officer before it can take place. A senior police officer may grant the search if he suspects that:

  • A serious violent crime could take place.
  • You are carrying a weapon or have used one.
  • You are in a specific area or location.

Police Stop and Search Powers in the United KingdomBefore You Get Searched by Police

Several things must happen before you get searched by a police officer. The police officer must inform you of:

  • Their full name and which police station they operate from.
  • What item or items they expect to find (e.g. weapon, drugs).
  • The specific reason for searching you (e.g. it appears that you are hiding something).
  • The legal reason why they can search you.
  • Your rights to a record of the search and, if not possible at the time, how you can get a copy of the search record afterwards.

Police Powers for Remove Clothes

Police stop and search powers allow an officer to ask that you take off (remove) your jacket, coat, or gloves.

The police can also ask that you take off other items of clothing. If they want you to remove more than a jacket and gloves the police officer must be the same sex gender as you are.

In some cases this can relate to clothes that you are wearing for religious reasons (e.g. a turban or a veil). The officer must take you somewhere out of public view in this situation.

Note: Being searched by the police does not mean you are getting arrested.

Stop and Account Rights

There is no national requirement for officers to keep records on the lesser-known ‘stop and accounting’ procedure. But, the direction for police stop and account powers comes from guidance note 22A.

In fact, local forces can decide whether their officers need to record the self-defined ethnicity of persons stopped and asked to account for themselves. This applies most where there may be concerns for the local monitoring of disproportionality.

Note: You would have the right to request information on how to complain about the way you got treated. The officer must provide the details on how to make a complaint about police treatment.

What Exactly is a Stop and Account Procedure?

The police say that stop and account happens when an officer stops a member of the public. The office may ask you several questions including:

  • What you are doing?
  • Why are you in a specific area?
  • What are you carrying?

Note: The police officer does not have the authority to make you stay – even if you get stopped under police stop and account powers. But, a stop and search falls under much stricter legal conditions.

Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) Regulations

From March the 26th, police officers in England have been given extra powers to enforce the coronavirus rules and regulations.

The new law is called the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) Regulations 2020. We understand Scotland, Northern Ireland, and Wales will also enforce the same regulations.

As a result, COVID-19 restrictions include staying at home and avoiding all ‘non-essential’ travel. Officers can now use ‘reasonable force’ to arrest and fine anyone who continues to flout the coronavirus lockdown rules.

The key points:

  • The UK Government says they enacted the new coronavirus rules to protect the public and to help keep people safe from a ‘serious and imminent threat to public health’ posed by Covid-19.
  • New police powers mean they can order members of the public to leave an area and go home. They can also disperse a group (using reasonable force) and make arrests (e.g. if someone refuses or fails to comply).
  • Ignoring the tough movement restrictions can result in an initial fine of £60. You can get it reduced to £30 by paying it within fourteen (14) days. The fine for committing a second offence is another £120.
  • The police have the power to arrest any individual who refuses to provide their name and address (e.g. to avoid getting a fine).
  • Why can I leave my house and how often?
  • You can leave your house to get money, food, and medical supplies for yourself, your household, or for a ‘vulnerable person‘. You can also go outside to get physical exercise. Other ‘reasonable excuses’ for leaving your home include:
    • Donating blood.
    • Attending a funeral.
    • Meeting bail conditions or going to court (e.g. to participate in legal proceedings).
    • Moving house.
    • Avoiding injury, illness, or to escape the risk of harm (e.g. domestic abuse or violence).
  • Certain types of businesses and buildings must close (e.g. public houses, restaurants, and theatres). But, many can stay open during the coronavirus outbreak in the United Kingdom, including:
    • Supermarkets.
    • Hardware stores.
    • Post offices.
  • The government will review the ’emergency laws’ at least once every twenty one (21) days from the 16th of April 2020.

Police Stop and Search Powers in United Kingdom