Stop and search
To help prevent crime and protect the safety of the public, the police can stop people and ask them to account for themselves in some circumstances. However, they're not allowed to stop someone because of the way they look.
What is stop and search?
One of the powers that the police sometimes use to prevent crime in the local community is the power of stop and search. This means that police officers and community support officers can stop you and ask questions about what you're doing in that area. You may be stopped on the street or in your car.
The power of stop and search also allows the police to search you if they suspect you might be carrying an illegal substance or something that could be used as a weapon.
What happens when you're stopped
If you are stopped by the police, it doesn't automatically mean that they think you've done something wrong and it's not the same as being arrested. They could be asking you for help or checking if you've seen anything suspicious happening in the last few minutes.
Unless you fit the description of someone who's suspected of committing a crime, the police are not allowed to stop you just on the basis of your race, religion, age or the clothes that you're wearing.
What the police have to do
If you are stopped by the police and asked to explain where you've been in the last few hours and what you've been doing, there are a number of things that they have to do.
First of all, an officer must let you know what their name is and what police station they work at. They also have to tell you why you've been stopped and what they're looking for. Finally, they must record all the details of the stop and search on a form which they give to you.
If they want to search you, they must do it in a public place. You may be asked to empty your pockets, open your bag or take off your coat so they can make sure you're not hiding any weapons or stolen goods.
The police can only search you further if they have strong evidence that you may be connected with terrorism, or if they think you're using your clothes to hide your identity. If this is the case, you have to be searched in a private place, and the officer who performs the search must be the same sex as you.
How to complain
If you think that you've been treated unfairly and feel you've only been stopped because of your race, your religion or the clothes that you wear, you can make a discrimination complaint.
The form that you were given when you were stopped should contain all the details of the officer that stopped you, so you can take your complaint straight to the police station that they work at.
If you're not satisfied with the answers you get, or if you want further advice before making a complaint, your local Citizens' Advice Bureau will be able to help you.
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