Find out more about Police powers and PCSO powers on this page.
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General Police Powers
Police behaviour is governed by law and CODES OF PRACTICE that work hand in hand with each other.
- You may be able to sue the Police
- They could be prosecuted for committing a criminal offence
- They could be disciplined.
Police Powers – Stop And Account
If you are in a public place the Police can stop you and ask you to account for yourself. You don’t need to provide your personal details. The police do not have to make a record or give you a receipt. But you may be asked to give your ethnicity.
Police Powers – Stop And Search – The Law
The police can stop and search any person, vehicle, and anything in or on the vehicle for certain items. However, before they stop and search they must have reasonable grounds for suspecting that they will find:
- stolen goods
- an offensive weapon
- any article made or adapted for use in certain offences, for example a burglary or theft
- items which could damage or destroy property, for example spray paint cans.
- If a serious violent incident has taken place, the police can stop and search you without having the reasonable grounds as set out above.
- The police can also search a football coach going to or from a football match if they have reasonable grounds for suspecting there is alcohol on board or that someone is drunk.
- If they reasonably suspect you of terrorist activity.
Police Powers – Stop And Search – Area Searches
In some circumstances a police officer of the rank of inspector or above can give the police permission to make stops and searches in an area for a certain amount of time – as long as this is for no more than 24 hours.
When this permission is in force the police can search for offensive weapons or dangerous instruments whether or not they have grounds for suspecting that people are carrying these items.
An officer with the rank of assistant chief constable or above can also give permission for searches in an area in order to prevent acts of terrorism.
Police Powers – Stop And Search – Your Rights
When the police stop you, they must provide you with the following information:-
- proof of their warrant card
- information on police powers to stop and search
- your rights
- the police officer’s name and police station
- the reason for the search
- what they think they might find when they search you.
Stop And Search – Intimate Searches
You should not be asked to remove any clothing whilst in public except an outer coat, jacket or gloves.
A more thorough search or a strip search may take place in private, for example in a police van which must be made by a police officer of the same sex.
Where Can The Police Search You?
The police can search you in any place that is generally open to the public. This means they can search you anywhere other than your home and your garden, or the home or garden of someone who has given you permission to be there.
Can force be used?
The police can use reasonable force when they stop and search, but must make every effort to persuade you to co-operate. They should only use force as a last resort.
Police Powers – When Can The Police Question You?
The police should not question you with a view to getting evidence until they have cautioned you.
If you have been arrested, you must not be interviewed before being taken to the police station unless:
- delay could lead to interference with or harm to evidence connected with the offence
- delay could lead to physical harm to others
- delay would alert someone suspected of committing an offence who has not yet been arrested
- delay would hinder the recovery of property that is the subject of the offence.
If you are cautioned without having been arrested, you must be told you are free to leave whenever you want.
When Can The Police Enter And Search?
Police can only enter premises without a warrant if a serious or dangerous incident has taken place.
Situations in which the police can enter premises without a warrant include when they want to:
- deal with a breach of the peace or prevent it
- enforce an arrest warrant
- arrest a person in connection with certain offences
- recapture someone who has escaped from custody
- save life or prevent serious damage to property.
Apart from when they are preventing serious injury to life or property, the police must have reasonable grounds for believing that the person they are looking for is on the premises.
Once Arrested – Police Power To Enter And Search
If the police do arrest you, they can also enter and search any premises where you were during or immediately before the arrest. They can search only for evidence relating to the offence for which you have been arrested, and they must have reasonable grounds for believing there is evidence there.
They can also search any premises occupied by someone who is under arrest for certain serious offences. Again, the police officer who carries out the search must have reasonable grounds for suspecting that there is evidence on the premises relating to the offence or a similar offence.
Police Powers – To Enter And Search Without A Warrant
In other circumstances, the police must have a search warrant before they can enter the premises. They should enter property at a reasonable hour unless this would frustrate their search. When the occupier is present, the police must ask for permission to search the property – again, unless it would frustrate the search to do this.
When they are carrying out a search police officers must:
- identify themselves and – if they are not in uniform – show their warrant card, and
- explain why they want to search, the rights of the occupier and whether the search is made with a search warrant or not.
Police Powers – To Enter And Search With A Warrant
If the police have a warrant, they can force entry if:
- the occupier has refused entry, or
- it is impossible to communicate with the occupier, or
- the occupier is absent, or
- the premises are unoccupied, or
- they have reasonable grounds for believing that if they do not force entry it would hinder the search, or someone would be placed in danger.
Police Powers To Seize Property
Police should only seize goods if they have reasonable grounds for believing that:
- they have been obtained illegally; or
- they are evidence in relation to an offence.
In either of these cases, they must also have reasonable grounds for believing that it is necessary to seize the goods to prevent them being lost, stolen or destroyed.
Police Power To Arrest
Police can arrest you if they have a valid arrest warrant. There are also some situations where they can arrest you without a warrant. These are where:
- you are in the act of committing certain offences
- they have reasonable grounds for suspecting you are committing certain offences
- they have reasonable grounds for suspecting you have committed certain offences
- you are about to commit certain offences
- they have reasonable grounds for suspecting you are about to commit certain offences.
The police can also arrest you if they have reasonable grounds for suspecting you have committed or attempted to commit any offence, or if you are committing or attempting to commit any offence, but it is impractical or inappropriate to serve a summons.
However, they can only do this if one of the following conditions applies:
- they do not know, and cannot get, your name
- they think you have given a false name
- you have not given a satisfactory address. This means an address where the police can contact you
- they think you have given a false address
- the arrest is necessary to prevent you causing physical injury to yourself or others, suffering physical injury, causing loss or damage to property, committing an offence against public decency, or causing an unlawful obstruction of the highway
- they have reasonable grounds for believing that arrest is necessary to protect a child or other vulnerable person.
The police should only use reasonable force to make an arrest and they should inform you that you are under arrest as soon as possible. After the arrest, they should explain why they have arrested you. The police must caution you unless it is impractical to do so or unless they cautioned you immediately before they arrested you.
If the police arrest you somewhere other than at a police station, they should take you to one as soon as possible.