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Stop and search

Stop and search is a policing power used by police officers to stop and search members of the public who are suspected to be carrying stolen or prohibited articles or offensive weapons.

Essex Police has a clear vision for stop and search - to gain the trust and confidence of the community in its use as a tactic for keeping everyone safe.

Stop and search is a vital tactic in combating crime, disrupting offenders, gathering intelligence and avoiding the unnecessary detention of individuals.

Around one in 10 of Essex Police stop and searches result in an arrest. We have a duty to exercise our power with consideration, being careful not to undermine public trust and confidence.

Positive, professional encounters

We place a real emphasis on high-quality stop and search encounters, remembering the person stopped may have not been so previously or even been spoken to before by a police officer. The aim is for the person to end the encounter with a positive and professional impression of Essex Police.

Stop and search is a very real deterrent to crime. We know from public feedback our Essex communities support us when it is used fairly, openly and professionally. It can have a particular impact upon deterring people from carrying knives.

Essex Police wants to ensure at all times our officers use stop and search professionally, fairly and appropriately to the satisfaction of all those stopped and the powers are used effectively and efficiently with the full confidence and support of our public.

How are we performing?

We publish several reports about stop and search performance which provides details, amongst other information, of the amount of stop and search which have taken place within each district and the amount of positive outcomes relating to those searches. Please refer to the bottom of this page under 'Related documents'.

Have your say

To better use these powers and engage further with the people of Essex we want you to let us know what you think.

Essex Police wants your feedback so we can work with you to ensure we continue to use the powers to the satisfaction of all our citizens in order to make our streets and communities safer. We are always looking to improve the service we deliver to residents of our county and want to know how you feel about stop and search.

Therefore, if you have been stopped and searched, please complete our anonymous survey to let us know how you feel you were treated and how we can do things better.

Making a complaint

On this page you will find further information which explains your rights entitlements during a stop and search and what you should expect from the police officers concerned.

If, after reading this information, you are still dissatisfied about the way in which you were stopped and searched please see our guidance on how to make a complaint. You can make a complaint in the following ways:

  • In person at any police station
  • By phone on 101 or alternatively, 01245 491491
  • Online form
  • By fax on  01245 452158
  • In writing to:

Professional Standards Department
Essex Police Headquarters,
Springfield Road,
Chelmsford,
Essex,
CM2 6DA

About stop and search

Being searched does not mean you are under arrest or have done something wrong. In some cases people are stopped as part of intelligence led operations in order to catch criminals in a targeted public place.

You should not be stopped solely because of your age, race, ethnicity, nationality, faith, gender, sexual orientation, or disability, the language you speak or because you have committed a crime in the past.

A police officer must have a good reason to suspect that you are in possession of articles that could amount to evidence of an offence before searching you. Police officers form their suspicions on the basis of what they have seen or heard, information from colleagues or members of the public and information from police intelligence systems. It might be for example that they are looking for a suspect who fits your description and an offence has been committed in the area. Whatever the reason the police officer will tell you their suspicions and the reasons for them.

Stop and search enables police officers to quickly allay or confirm suspicion about individuals without the need to first make an arrest. The police officer may ask you a few questions before a search takes place, as this may quickly dispel the suspicions removing the necessity to carry out the search.
Police officers must use stop and search powers fairly, responsibly and without discrimination.

Conducting the search

Before the search takes place, the police officer will tell you that you have been detained for the purpose of a search. Although this does not mean you have been arrested, you must remain with the police officer until the search has been completed. The length of time you are detained must be reasonable and kept to a minimum.

If you are in a public place, police officers can only require you to take off an outer coat, jacket and gloves. If they want you to remove more than this, they can only require you to do so if they take you somewhere out of public view, e.g. a police station. This does not mean you are being arrested.

You are entitled to a copy of the search record and this entitlement remains for three months unless you are arrested and it forms part of a custody record, in which case the detainee may apply for a copy up to 12 months after the search/arrest.

What must the police officer tell you?

The police officer must tell you:

  • Their name and the station where they work, unless the search is in relation to suspected terrorist activity, or where giving his or her name may place the officer in danger. In these circumstances the officer must provide their identification number instead.
  • Why they intend to search you
  • What they are looking for
  • The legal power or authority they are using
  • Your entitlement to a copy of the search record
  • If the police officer is not in uniform, they must show you their warrant card.

You are entitled to a copy of the search record and this entitlement remains for three months unless you are arrested and it forms part of a custody record, in which case the detainee may apply for a copy up to 12 months after the search/arrest.

Requirement to make a stop and search record

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 searched a copy or a receipt to obtain a copy. The record may be recorded on a paper form or electronically. As a minimum, the police officer is legally required to record:

  • Date, time and place of the search
  • Your self-defined ethnicity (if provided) / observed ethnicity
  • What they were looking for
  • Their grounds for searching you
  • Legal power or authority used
  • The officer’s details

Officers and supervisors must check that stop and search forms have been completed correctly. This provides an audit trail that the search has been carried out correctly and lawfully.

Where an officer asks you for your name, address and date of birth you do not have to give this information if you do not want to unless the police officer is reporting you for an offence. Under such circumstances any failure to provide this information could lead to your arrest.

Everyone who is stopped and searched will be asked to define his or her ethnic background. You can choose from a list of national census categories that the officer will show you and explain fully.

You do not have to state your ethnic background if you do not want to. However the officer is legally required to record this on the form. The ethnicity question helps ensure the police are using their powers fairly.

How can I obtain a copy of my stop and search record?

Stop and search card receiptWhen you were searched the officer will have given you a receipt, similar to a business card, which details the searching officer’s name, the date you were searched and, in some cases, a reference number for your search.

To obtain a copy of your search record, take this receipt and a form of identification with you to any police station in Essex and request a copy of your search record. You are entitled to a copy of this record within the 3 months of the date you were searched or within 12 months if you were arrested and taken into custody.

Stopping and searching vehicles

Section 163 Road Traffic Act 1988 allows an officer, who must be in uniform, to stop and speak to any driver. The officer does not need to suspect the driver of an offence to stop the vehicle and you may be asked to show your driving documents.

If a police officer suspects that your vehicle may contain stolen or prohibited articles or offensive weapons, they can search your vehicle at any time, even if you are not there but they must leave a notice explaining what they have done.

Anti-terrorism

Sections 43, 43A and 47A of the Terrorism Act 2000 provides powers for a constable in uniform to stop and search a pedestrian, vehicle, or any passenger of that vehicle or in specified locations in order to prevent acts of terrorism. These powers require the authority of a senior police officer.

The Best use of stop and search

The ‘Best use of stop and search’ scheme is a Home Office initiative introduced by Essex Police in August 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, leading to better outcomes, for example, an increase in the stop and search to positive outcome ratio.

Section 60 Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994

When search powers under this legislation are authorised, police officers do not need to specify any grounds in which to search members of the public in the location specified by the authority. In these circumstances an the use of these powers will have been authorised as it is believed that serious violence will take place in a certain locality or there is evidence to suggest that serious violence has taken place or persons will be carrying offensive weapons without good reason.

As part of Essex police’s commitment to the ‘Best use of stop and search’ scheme, an authority under this legislation will be granted by an officer of a rank no lower than the Assistant Chief Constable. Community consultation will take place where practicable and the details of when and where the powers will be used and the results following the use of the powers will also be communicated to the public.

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