Guide to Stop & Search

This is intended as an overview of Stop and Search powers and how they can be used by the police. It’s important to remember that there is a big difference between what the police should do, and what they actually do. It’s always best to attend a workshop to talk about these issues in more detail. You can contact us to find out about workshops, or request one.

What is Stop and Search?

Stop and Search is the power given to the police to stop and search a person or vehicle without arresting them first. This power was granted in Part 1 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (PACE). It was designed to replace ‘sus’ laws. These ‘sus’ laws, and their racist use against black people, had been a major contributing factor to the Brixton riots in 1981. Stop and Search continues to be used by the police to criminalise and control people of colour, and is a major source of anger towards the police in London today.

You can also be stopped and searched under the powers granted by Section 60 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994. Section 60 was originally written to combat violence at football matches, but has been used more and more widely over the last few years. Under Section 60 searches have to first be authorised by an inspector or above, and they have to suspect that there is likelihood of violence breaking out, or people carrying offensive weapons without good reason. Under Section 60 officers can stop and search any person or vehicle for weapons. They also do not have to give any reason for the search.

How is it used?

Stop and Search is racist from top to bottom, and has nothing to do with catching criminals. In 2011 there were 1,205,495 searches. Across the country less than 10% of stops end in arrest, and in London this figure drops to 8%. Many of those are nothing to do with finding anything illegal, but because people choose to disagree with or resist the search.

It is clearly a tool designed and deployed by the state to intimidate certain communities. Asian people are twice as likely to be stopped as white people, and black people are seven times as likely to be stopped as white people. When found in possession of drugs, black people are twice as likely to be charged with an offence as white people. This shows up the lie of ‘equality under the law’, demonstrating how Stop and Search has been used as a form of social control in Black and Asian communities.

The figures are even worse for Section 60 searches. While originally designed to deal with football hooliganism, these searches are now widely used in response to low-level disorder and knife crime. Black people are thirty-seven times more likely to be stopped and searched under Section 60 than white people. For Asian people this figure is ten times. Only 2.4% of Section 60 stops lead to arrest, and just 0.4% of those for carrying offensive weapons. In London, comparisons between boroughs found no direct relationship between numbers of Section 60 stops and reductions in knife crime.

Arrests arising from Stop and Search under PACE 1984 and Section 60 are roughly equal across all ethnic groups.

What are your rights?

Remember you DO NOT have to give either your name or address, under ANY search power. The only exception to this is when:

  • You are stopped driving a vehicle.
  • The police believe you have committed an offense or anti-social behaviour.
  • You are given a court summons.

Before a search

Before they conduct a search, the constable has to inform you of:

  • Grounds for the search (except under Section 60).
  • Object of the search i.e. what they are looking for.
  • Warrant card if in plain clothes.
  • Identify the PC must inform you of their name.
  • Station, the police station at which the constable works.
  • Entitlement to a copy of the search record.
  • Law being used to authorise the search (e.g. PACE 1984, Section 60).
  • You are being detained for the purpose of a search.

You can remember this with the acronym GOWISELY. At the end of the search you have the right to a receipt of the search unless there is an urgent reason they cannot give you one. We recommend that you always press for one, having too many people to search is not an excuse to refuse you a receipt!

During a search

  • The police are allowed to use ‘reasonable force’ in conducting the search.
  • You may be arrested and assaulted if you do not cooperate.
  • Searches are limited to outer clothing.
  • Police cannot force you to remove any clothing in public except coats, jackets or gloves.
  • Intimate body searches must take place at a police station.
  • You can request a copy of the search for up to 12 months after the search.
  • If the police do not comply with any legal requirement or abuse their powers in any other way you can make a complaint within 12 months from the date of the incident.
  • The police have no reason to look through your phone or camera, and have no right to delete any photos.

What if I am arrested?

We advise that you DO NOT accept any charge including cautions, answer any questions (whether it be in a van or interview or otherwise) or sign anything without speaking to a legal adviser. There is no such thing as a ‘friendly chat’ – anything you say may be used as evidence.

When you are arrested there are certain rights you have (we think it is a good idea you try to make the police stick to them):

  • To remain silent and say ‘NO COMMENT’ to all questions (you can even make your lawyer advise you to give a ‘NO COMMENT’ interview; this may look better if your case comes to trial).
  • To receive free legal advice at the police station.
  • To have someone notified of your arrest.
  • To see a doctor if you have injuries or feel ill.
  • To be given a copy of the ‘PACE (Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984) Codes of Practice’ which explains your rights in detail. Ask if not offered.

Children also have certain additional rights:

  • If you are under 17, the police must inform your parent/guardian of your arrest as soon as possible.
  • If you ask to have an adult present when you are interviewed, the cannot interview you until that adult arrives.
  • If you are under 16 the police cannot take photographs or fingerprints from you, without your parent’s or guardian’s permission.
  • The police can only take hair or saliva if you have been charged.
  • Otherwise they must get permission from you and your parent/guardian.
  • If you are under 10 you cannot be charged with an offense.
  • If you between 10 and 17 you will be charged as a young offender.

How do we fight back?

We recommend a number of ways

  • Question the action of the officers. They don’t have to stop and search you, so let them know they are doing something wrong.
  • You have the right to film the police on public property. They may try to convince you otherwise, but ignore them. Filming them will make them less likely to ignore your rights or assault you. Having a video record of your Stop and Search can also be very important if the officers do not fulfil their duty under the law, and you wish to challenge them later for misuse of their powers.
  • Let people around you know what is happening. Stop and search can feel very lonely, and very isolating. Explain to the people around you what is going on and that you have done nothing wrong. Hopefully some of them will come to your assistance.
  • If you are arrested try to get the name and details of anybody around you. They could prove to be a valuable witness later.
  • Don’t give them your name or address. They may demand it from you, but they have no right to know any of your personal information.
  • After it has happened, let other people know. Sometimes it can feel like you are on your own with the police, but if you let your friends, family, and co-workers know that this is happening, we are more likely to build opposition to it, and find ways of supporting one another when it happens.
  • Let us know what has happened. Contact LCAPSV and we will try to help you in whatever way you need. Together we can fight back.

If you see somebody else being stopped and searched, don’t just walk past, but intervene:

  • Ask if they are ok, and if you can help.
  • Inform them of their rights, and the duties of the officers towards them.
  • Film what is happening. Ask permission from the person being stopped first, or otherwise only film the police officer.
  • Try to get other members of the public to intervene as well. The more of you there are, the more pressure you can put on the police officer.
  • If they are arrested, give them your details so they can contact you as a witness.
  • If you are carrying anything illegal, stay away as the officer may decide to search you as well if you try to intervene.

How can I find out more?

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