Stop and Search

"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 they will find a prohibited article or item for use in crime; the person understands why they have been searched and feels that they have been treated with respect; the search was necessary and was the most proportionate method the police officer could use to establish whether the person has such an item."

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


Stop and Search 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’s equally important that communities are reassured that we use stop and search appropriately, honestly, openly and in a transparent manner.

Used correctly it prevents, detects, and deters criminals whilst re-assuring the communities of Norfolk 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.

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 or could 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 they will find a prohibited article or item for use in crime;
  • the person understands why they have been searched and feels that they have been treated with respect;
  • the search was necessary and was the most proportionate method the police officer could use to establish whether the person has such an item.

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 where 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 involve 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 our codes of practice state that the search should take place at or near 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’), and will usually wait with the juvenile under constant supervision and care until the 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 ground, 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  
  • 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
  • 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 announced on 30 April 2014. The principal aims of the scheme are to achieve greater transparency, community involvement in the use of stop and search powers, and 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 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. 
  • Reducing section 60 ‘no-suspicion’ stop and searches - by  raising the authorisation of blanket stop search powers to senior officers (above the rank of Chief Superintendent); ensuring that section 60 stop and search is only used where it is deemed absolutely necessary. Authorisations are likely to relate to planned operations and will be put in place with the public notified in advance. 

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

On average we 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

Superintendent David Buckley is the strategic lead for Stop and Search in Norfolk. If you have a question you can contact Ch/Insp Buckley and his team by dialling 101.

Accordion Title
Know your rights
Accordion Text

Searches requiring reasonable suspicion include:

  • Section 1 Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984
  • Section 23 Misuse of Drugs Act 1971
  • Section 36/37 Psychoactive Substances Act
  • Section 47 Firearms Act 1968
  • Section 43(1) Terrorism Act 2000

Police officers in uniform or plain clothes can search:

  • You
  • Anything you may be carrying
  • Any vehicle you may be in

If they have reasonable grounds to suspect that you have with you:

  • Stolen Goods
  • Drugs
  • Firearms
  • Knives, pointed/bladed instruments or offensive weapons
  • Anything that may be used for burglary or theft
  • Evidence of certain other offences, e.g. Terrorism

Before searching, the officers must have good reason for their suspicion . They cannot search you just because of:

  • Race
  • Religion
  • Sexuality
  • Gender
  • Age
  • Disability
  • Appearance (unless you fit the description of someone suspected of having committed an offence nearby)

Before searching you, the officers must identify themselves (if in plain clothes produce their warrant cards) and tell you:

  • The purpose of the search
  • The grounds for their suspicion
  • The police station they are from

If the search is in public the Police Officer can require you to take off only:

  • Your outer coat, jacket or gloves

If a more thorough search is necessary, it must be conducted:

  • Out of public view and
  • By an officer of the same sex as you

The officer must ask you for your name, address and date of birth, but there is no obligation on you to provide these details and no power of detention if you are unwilling to do so. You are also entitled to a copy of the search record within 3 months of the search taking place, by writing to The Chief Constable, at the address shown overleaf.
Searches that do not require Reasonable Suspicion
For the powers listed below, the officer does not have to have
reasonable grounds to suspect the individual stopped or searched of
carrying dangerous instruments or offensive weapons or of involvement in the anticipated violence or terrorism. However, these powers may only be used by police officers in uniform.
Sec. 60 Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994
If it is believed that incidents involving serious violence will soon take place in a locality, or that persons are carrying dangerous instruments or offensive weapons in a locality, the police have powers to detain you and/or your vehicle (if it is with you) and to search for offensive weapons and dangerous instruments. A senior officer must give written authority which will be held at the police station.
Sec. 163 Road Traffic Act 1988
A police officer in uniform can also stop any vehicle and speak to the driver. They do not need to suspect you of having committed any offence. They can also require you to produce your driving documents for the vehicle at a police station if you are not able to show them at the time. If they do this you may be issued with a different document.
The power to stop a motor vehicle does not give a right of search. If the
police want to search your vehicle they have to do so under one of the above powers.
If you volunteer to be searched an officer CANNOT and MUST NOT search you or your vehicle unless they have the legal power to do so.