Explained: What Is Stop And Search?

What is Stop and Search?

Stop and search is a procedure which was introduced in 1984, which allows police officers to stop any member of the public to search them for illegal drugs or weapons if they have reasonable doubt that the person in question may be a threat. The Police can stop and question you at any time and they can also search you depending on the situation in hand.

A police community support officer (PCSO) must be in uniform when they stop and question you. A police officer doesn’t always have to be in uniform but if they’re not wearing uniform they must show you their warrant card.


What might you be asked?

A police officer might stop you and ask:

  • what your name is
  • what you’re doing in the area
  • where you’re going

You are not obliged to answer these questions. If you choose not to and there is no other reason to suspect you, then this alone can’t be a reason to search and arrest you.


When do the Police have the power to stop and search?

A police officer has powers to stop and search you if they have ‘reasonable grounds’ to suspect you’re carrying:

  • illegal drugs
  • a weapon
  • stolen property
  • something which could be used to commit a crime, such as a crowbar

You can only be stopped and searched without reasonable grounds if it has been approved by a senior police officer. This can happen if it is suspected that:

  • serious violence could take place
  • you’re carrying a weapon or have used one
  • you’re in a specific location or area


What will happen before you’re searched?

Before you’re searched the police officer must tell you:

  • their name and police station
  • what they expect to find, for example drugs
  • the reason they want to search you, for example if it looks like you’re hiding something
  • why they are legally allowed to search you
  • that you can have a record of the search and if this isn’t possible at the time, how you can get a copy

The officer can ask you to take off your coat, jacket or other clothing if need be. This can include clothing worn for religious reasons- for example a veil or a turban. If they do, they must take you out of view of the public and they must be the same sex as you.

Why was it introduced?

Stop and search was first introduced by the Vagrancy Act of 1824, which allowed Police officers to stop and search individuals under what were known as ‘sus’ laws. They were called this because they only required ‘suspicion’ on the part of the officer.

This law is now known as the Police and Criminal Evidence Act (PACE) 1984. The Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 is an Act of Parliament which instituted a legislative framework for the powers of police officers in England and Wales to combat crime, and provided codes of practice for the exercise of those powers.

Now Police officers should have reasonable doubt that the person in question could be a potential threat.


Why is it important?

Stop and Search is important because it allows the police to do their job correctly in ensuring that they protect the public from harm. Without Police having the right to Stop and Search, the number of criminals carrying lethal weapons could increase, putting the public at risk of injury or worse.


Do people understand what it is and why officer do it?

Although people are aware that the Police have the power to stop individuals, they aren’t always aware of the reasoning behind officers conducting stop and search.


Founder of knife crime campaign, Eliza Rebeiro, said that ‘we aren’t being taught why it came to place in the first place after Stephen Lawrence died so people rebel and don’t want to participate.’


However, in a recent Facebook poll, statistics showed that 63% who voted were aware of what stop and search means and why officers do it.

What do charities think?

There are countless knife crime charities and youth campaigns that express their opinions on the technique. Some think that the approach could be improved, while others simply support the idea that they are essential for reducing crime.

Founder of youth campaign Lives Not Knives, Eliza Rebeiro, stated that ‘officers aren’t taught how to stop and search properly.’


CEO of The Ben Kinsella Trust, Patrick Green, said ‘stop and search remains a really important Police tool, if you believe somebody is carrying a knife or acid, you have to have the power to stop them.’


Why have we seen a decrease in statistics?

Recently we have seen a large decrease in stop and search statistics.

Statistics taken from GOV.UK

‘Officers currently get little training in most things including Stop and Search.’- A Kent Police Officer

A Kent police officer, who has chosen to be anonymous, said that ‘The government made a promise to reduce the number of stop and searches that were undertaken, they have made it clear to forces that certain legislation shouldn’t be used. Senior leaders don’t support officers when complaints about stop and search are made and as such officers are willing to put their jobs and lives on the line. The overwhelming message from the government, MOPAC and senior leaders has been that officers avoid stop and search unless totally necessary and likely to end with a positive result.’