Stop and Search

Stop and search

Please note that anyone with an interest in stop and search is welcome to attend and contribute to our independent Stop and Search Reference Group meetings. The meetings offer an independent view of the tool’s use across Suffolk and aim to ensure that stop and search is used appropriately. More details of this can be found on the Stop and Search Reference Group Page that can be accessed through the drop down arrow for Stop and Search in the menu to the right of this page.

What is Stop and Search?

This is when a police officer stops you and searches you, your clothes, and anything you are carrying.

The power to stop and search is a valuable policing tool in the fight against crime. It is equally important that communities are reassured that the Suffolk Constabulary use stop and search appropriately, honestly, and transparently.

Used correctly, stop and search can prevent, detect, and deter criminals whilst re-assuring the communities of Suffolk that they have an effective Police Service that they can rely on to protect them from harm.

Please note: Only a police officer can search you. (A police community support officer cannot search you unless in very specific circumstances around alcohol and tobacco confiscation.)
You can only be stopped and searched if a police officer has good reason to suspect you are carrying:

  • drugs, weapons or stolen property
  • items which could be used:
    –  to commit a crime
    – to commit an act of terrorism
    – to cause criminal damage.

This good reason should be based on facts, information or intelligence. It could also be because of the way you are behaving.

Please note: There are times when police officers can search anyone within a certain area, for example:

  • when there is evidence that serious violence could take place there
  • where a terrorist threat has been identified.

But the officer should explain this to you and must be searching for items which could be used in connection with violence or terrorism.

College of Policing definition of a fair and effective stop and search encounter:

A stop and search is most likely to be fair and effective when:

  • the search is justified, lawful and stands up to public scrutiny;
  • the officer has genuine and objectively reasonable suspicion that they will find a prohibited article or item for use in crime;
  • the search was necessary and the most proportionate method the police officer could use to establish whether the person has such an item; and
  • the person understands why they have been searched and feels that they have been treated with respect.

Where can I be stopped and searched?

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 the officer believes you are using clothes to hide your identity.

If the police 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 who searches you must be the same sex as you.

In situations where it is justified to search a person more thoroughly, and this involves the exposure of intimate parts (often referred to as strip searches), there must be two officers of the same sex and they cannot search you in a police vehicle or public place.

Usually this means taking you to a police station however the codes of practice state that the search should take place at or near to the place you were detained, and should take only a reasonable amount of time. Again, you are not under arrest, but you are detained for the purpose of that search, so should comply with directions given.

For juveniles, police officers cannot commence a strip search without the presence of an adult with care or responsibility for that person (an ‘appropriate adult’). Therefore, the officer will usually wait with the juvenile, ensuring that they are under constant supervision and care until the appropriate adult is available.

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 licence.

The police can search your vehicle if they have good reason to think it contains:

  • stolen goods
  • drugs
  • weapons

They can search your vehicle at any time as long as they have reasonable grounds. They can do this even if you are not there, but must leave a notice saying what they have done. See Code A of PACE (Page 6).

If the search causes damage to your car, you can ask for compensation but only if the police didn’t find anything to connect you to a crime.

What happens if I am stopped and searched?

Before you are searched, the police officer should tell you:

  • that you must wait to be searched:  “you are detained for the purpose of a search”;
  • what law they are using to search you;
  • their name and station they work at;
  • the ‘grounds’ for the search – i.e. why they are searching you in particular;
  • what they are looking for; and
  • that you have a right to be given a form straight away showing details of the stop and search and an entitlement to collect it from a police station within 3 months if you don’t take it at the time.

Officers can use reasonable force to search people who are not compliant, however every effort must be made to try and explain the reasons for searching you in the first instance.

Your right to a receipt

The Police and Criminal Evidence Act (PACE) requires police officers to make a record of every search they conduct at the time and to give the person who was searched a copy of the record. The record may be created on paper or electronically.

You will be asked if you want to obtain a copy and, if you do, you will be provided with one or given a receipt and details of how you can obtain one. You will be able to use the receipt to request a full paper copy from your local police enquiry office within three months of the stop.

If you are arrested and taken to a police station, the details of the search will be recorded as part of your custody record. You still have the right to a copy of a search record.

The record must be created at the time of the stop and search, however if there are exceptional circumstances the officer does not need to do this. This will include situations where the officer’s presence is urgently required elsewhere. If these circumstances arise, the officer should record the details of the stop and search as soon as practicable.

The officer must write down:

  • your name or a description of you (only if you are searched);
  • your self-defined ethnic background;
  • when and where you were stopped or searched;
  • why you were stopped or searched;
  • if they are taking any action;
  • the names and/or numbers of the officers; and
  • if you were searched, what they were looking for and anything they found.

It is important to know that there are no targets for Stop Searches.

The ‘Best Use of Stop and Search Scheme’  was introduced on April 30th 2014. The principal aims of the scheme are to achieve greater transparency and community involvement in the use of stop and search powers, as well as to support a more intelligence-led approach. This should lead to better outcomes, for example, an increase in the stop and search to positive outcome ratio. The scheme  was amended on 11 August 2019 by the Home Secretary to exclude the original Section 60 provisions.

The features of the scheme are:

  • Data recording – forces will record the broader range of stop and search outcomes e.g. arrests, cautions, penalty notices for disorder and all other disposal types. Forces will also show the link, or lack of one, between the object of the search and its outcome.
  • Lay observation policies – providing the opportunity for members of the local community to accompany police officers on patrol using stop and search.
  • Stop and search complaints ‘community trigger’ – a local complaint policy requiring the police to explain to local community scrutiny groups how the powers are being used where there is a large volume of complaints.

By adopting the scheme, forces will use stop and search strategically, which they hope will improve public confidence and trust.

On average Suffolk Police receive seven complaints per year relating to stop and search, each complaint will now be referred to the established Independent Stop Search Scrutiny Panel. The panel is made up of lay members of the community providing oversight of our stop search practices on behalf of the public, and being a ‘critical friend’ to help us improve our service.

If you feel that you have been treated unfairly then you have the right to complain.

If you wish to report your complaint through a third party you can do this via the Stop and Search Reference Group. The details are:

Tel:       01473 408111

46A St. Matthew’s Street,
Ipswich, Suffolk IP1 3EP.

Opening Hours:
Monday – Friday 9am – 1pm and 2pm – 5pm