Stop and Search
Why do the police stop and search people?
The police stop and search people in order to make communities safer. The main purpose of stop and search powers is to enable police officers to allay or confirm suspicions about individuals without exercising their power of arrest. They can and should use the powers they have to help to reduce the need to arrest people when they are trying to prevent or detect some sorts of crime.
This page aims to help you understand the stop and search procedures, the type of behaviour you should expect from police officers and, in return, what the police can reasonably expect from you.
What is a 'stop and search'?
Police officers can approach you and talk to you at any time. This is not a “stop and search”. They can also stop you and talk to you whilst you are driving a motor vehicle to ask to see your Driving License or other driving documents but again, this is not a “stop and search”.
There are many powers granted to police officers to search people but the main ones most people are concerned with are the powers under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act to stop and search you if the police officer suspects that you are carrying:
- stolen property; or
- an offensive weapon or
- items which could be used to commit some sorts of crime, like burglary or theft or
- some sorts of fireworks
or the powers to “stop and search” you if the police officer suspects that you are carrying:
- illegal drugs or
- something you are going to use to commit criminal damage
A police officer should only “stop and search” you if they have a legal power to do so, regardless of whether you consent to being searched or not.
If you are stopped and searched it doesn’t necessarily mean you have done something wrong. You may simply fit the description of someone the police officer is seeking in connection with a crime, or they may suspect you, because of some other circumstances or report, one of the things listed earlier. Remember though that these are not all the powers that the police have to “stop and search” you under – just the most used ones. However, in each case the police officer must have a good reason for stopping and searching you and should tell you what this is. You should allow them to do that, or ask if it isn’t made clear.
There are some occasions when a police officer can search anyone within a certain area, for example when there it is believed that serious violence could take place there, or a terrorist threat has been identified. The authority for them to do so must come from a very senior police officer and will only be granted rarely. As normal though, the police officer should explain this to you and must be searching for items to be used in connection with the matter the power is given for.
If you are stopped and searched the police officer will try to be sensitive, discreet and quick - they will do their best not to embarrass or delay you unnecessarily. If you are in a public place, you should only be asked to take off your coat or jacket or gloves. If the police want to ask you to take off more than this, or anything you wear for religious reasons such as a face scarf or turban, they must take you somewhere out of the public view. This does not mean that you are being arrested and in this case, the officer who searches you must be the same sex as you.
Where can I be stopped and searched?
A police officer can “stop and search” you:
- in a public place (like in the street or in a park); or
- in any other place to which people have ready access at the time (for instance a pub or a house’s garden) and
- in addition, a police officer can, if they have good reason to think your car contains stolen goods, drugs or weapons, search it even if you are not there.
What should happen if I am 'stopped and searched'?
If you are stopped by a police officer in order to be searched, they should make you aware of the following:
- that you are being detained for the search
- their name
- which police station they work at
- what made them suspicious of you in the first place
- the aim of the search (that is what they are looking for
- the power they are using
- that you are entitled to a copy of the search record
- if the police officer is not in uniform, they should show you their identity card
- where possible, you should be searched out of public view in order to minimise any potential embarrassment for you
- the police officer may ask to see the contents of your pockets as well as other items you may be carrying such as a bag
If you have difficulty understanding English, for example if you are deaf, then the police must take reasonable steps to ensure that you understand what is being told you.
If your car is searched whilst you are not there, the police officer must leave a note telling you what they have done.
Will I be arrested?
A “stop and search” is not an arrest – remember its main purpose is to try to avoid any need to arrest you. However, if you are found to be carrying something illegal then you may be arrested or prosecuted in some other way, such as being reported for an offence.
What you will be asked
If you have been “stopped and searched” but not arrested or prosecuted in some other way, you will be asked to provide your name and your date of birth. You don't have to give this information if you don't want to.
If you are told you are being reported for an offence you must provide these details. If you do not, you may be arrested.
You may be asked to describe your ethnic origin. You do not have to give this information, but we ask the question so we can monitor the use of “stop and search” powers more effectively.
Your right to a record
If you are “stopped and searched”, the police officer must offer you a receipt or at least a reference number, allowing you to obtain a written record at a later date.
You are entitled to a copy of your search record within three months of the date of search. If you would like a copy please attend at any main West Yorkshire Police station and quote your reference number. You will need to provide a form of identification (e.g. driving licence, passport, etc.
If you have been stopped and searched by West Yorkshire Police, you can provide feedback about your experience using the online form below:
West Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner - Stop and search feedback
If you wish to make a formal complaint
We hope that the training that we give to our Police officers and the explanation that information such as this gives will improve understanding of both individual rights and police powers in any circumstance where “stop and search” is used. If though, you believe you were “stopped and searched” unreasonably, or you weren't treated fairly or with respect you have the right to report this and can:
- go to any main police station
- follow the ‘Contact Us’ link on the Force website
- go to a Citizen’s Advice Bureau or
- contact the Independent Police Complaints Commission
It will help if you keep the record that the police officer gave you.
Home Office Best Use of Stop and Search Scheme
West Yorkshire Police is a member of the Home Office Best Use of Stop Search Scheme, and recognises the need for transparency in what we do. We aim through the lawful and fair use of “stop and search” to reduce crime and increase public confidence in our “stop and search” procedures.
Police officers across the Force work closely with the community to constantly review and monitor “stop and search” so that we can improve the way we carry it out. In addition, the “stop and search” Community Trigger requires the police to explain to local community scrutiny groups how the powers are being used whenever a public complaint is made. If you have a concern about the way the police are using stop and search within your community, please contact us.