Avon & Somerset Police Authority

Avon & Somerset Police Authority


Home > Scrutiny > Stop and Search

Stop and Search
S&S photo 2

We know that the way that the police use their powers to stop and search people can sometimes create tensions within our communities. We want you to know what your rights are when you are stopped by a police officer and what you can do if you feel you have been treated unfairly.

Know Your Rights
Police officers can stop and talk to you at any time, for example, to pass the time of day or to ask if you have witnessed an incident. This is not a 'Stop and Account' or a 'Stop and Search'.
What is a 'stop and account'?
If a police officer has reasonable grounds, he or she can ask you to account for:
  • Your actions
  • Your presence in a particular location
  • Your behaviour
  • Your possession of an item
What is a 'stop and search'?
A police officer can search you if he or she suspects you are carrying:
  • drugs
  • weapons
  • stolen property
  • items which could be used to commit a crime or damage to property
Why do the police need these powers?
Police need these powers to reduce crime and the fear of crime in our communities. Often, when members of the public report an incident they give a description of the person(s) involved. The police may need to search anyone fitting that description, within a reasonable distance, to establish if they were involved in the incident.
Often this eliminates the person from suspicion quickly and removes the need for them to attend a police station, saving everyone's time. Likewise if members of a gang are known to carry weapons, the police need to be able to search people suspected of belonging to that gang.
What if I am stopped?
If you are stopped and searched it doesn't mean that you have done something wrong. The police do understand that being stopped can be embarrassing or frustrating if you are in a hurry. Try to be calm and cooperate with the officer, as this will reduce the time it takes. The officer will seek your cooperation, but in some circumstances, force may be used to conduct a search if absolutely necessary.
Where can I be stopped?
You can be stopped:
  • in a public place, or
  • anywhere - if the police believe you have committed a serious crime.
If the police have reason to believe there may be serious violence then they can search everyone in an area for weapons - for example near a football ground - without needing a good reason to search each person (section 60 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994).
A police officer can stop a vehicle at any time and ask to see the driver's licence. If they have good reason to think your car contains stolen goods, drugs or weapons, they could search it even if you are not there, but they must leave a notice saying what they have done.
If the search caused damage, and the police didn't find anything to connect you to a crime, you can ask for compensation.

Further information on stop and search can be found on the Home Office website in: Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (PACE) code of practice A.

If you would like a copy of our leaflet entitled Stop and Search please contact the Police Authority office on 01275 816377, alternatively please use our contact form

Back to the top