Stop and Search
Stop and Search in the community
You may have been stopped and searched by the police, which can be frustrating, distressing, and/or feel unfair if you haven’t done anything wrong or illegal.
A police officer is allowed to stop and search you if they have reasonable grounds that you are
- carrying drugs
- a knife or other weapon
- stolen property
- items used in connection to theft
- articles used to commit criminal damage.
If you are stopped by the police in public, try to stay calm and answer their questions. Before you are searched they should tell you:
- why they have stopped you,
- what they are looking for
- their name and the name of the station they work at.
They should also explain your rights and give you a form which the police call form 5090 (A) (stop and search form which is a paper version or electronically completed).
If an officer does not state this, it is your right to ask for this information and for it to be documented via video recording.
Understanding the facts
- A police officer does not have to be in uniform. (Unless they are executing stop and search powers under section 60). They must show you their warrant card. The warrant card is a plastic card displaying the officer’s name, rank and their warrant number. It also has an expiry date and holograms on the front and back. Officers should allow you to view the front and back of the card if requested.
- Under Section 60 powers, an officer must be in uniform to stop and search a person
- You can ask that the officer who searches you is the same sex as you. This is not a right, but officers will provide this if they can.
- You will not be asked to remove clothing exposing intimate parts in a police vehicle. You can be asked to remove some items of clothing so they can carry out the search.
- If police ask you to remove a shirt or trousers, this should be done out of public view by two officers of the same sex as you.
- Police can ask you to take off anything you wear for religious reasons, such as a headscarf or a turban. This must be done out of public view and by same sex officers as you where possible.
- If English is not your first language, reasonable steps will be taken to find an interpreter. This depends on the circumstances and reasons for your search. If an interpreter cannot be provided at the time of your search, an interpreter will be provided at a later date to explain what has happened to you.
- You do not have a right to an appropriate adult during a stop and search in the community. (Please check the section on More Thorough Intimate Parts (MTIP) searches which is the highest level of search where intimate parts are exposed. If under 18 an appropriate adult is required, but can be refused).
The officers use an acronym called GOWISELY.
Police officers must give the basic information about the grounds for being searched.
They must be clear about what they are looking for.
Unless they are in full uniform they need to show their warrant card (proof of identification and/or authority). Even if the same police officer/officers have searched you before they still must identify themselves again.
The police officer must say which geographical station they are from.
Officers will explain your entitlement to a copy of the written record. The 5090 (A) is a written record or a receipt explaining why you were stopped and searched, and the officer who stopped you. 5090 is paper. 5090A is electronically recorded. Both are entered onto the same system. If you do not want to wait around for this, you have up to three months to request the written information if you were not provided with it at the time. You can ask for this at any police station within the Metropolitan Police Service. It is important to get as many details as possible about the officer stopping you, so a record of your search can be found.
Police officers must give information about the legal power they are acting under. Usually, this should be which section of the law they are acting under, e.g. Section 23 of the Misuse of Drugs Act.
You are being detained
Police officers must explain that you are being detained under the law to be searched and that it is not voluntary.
When the officer gives GOWISLEY this does not have to be in order but all points have to be covered.
Search powers under Section 60 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994
This power gives officers more power to stop and search members of the public in a certain location. This is to reduce the threat of violence following incidents of serious violence in the day(s) before when the S60 is implemented.
This power is authorised for short periods, is regularly reviewed and will only be used for as long as is necessary to reduce violent tensions. An officer has to be in uniform and they have to tell you why they are stopping and searching you when they do so under S60.
More Thorough Intimate Parts searches (“Strip Search”) Rights
MTIP or More Thorough Intimate Parts searches ( this is the language used by police to describe what is commonly referred to as “Strip searches”) can take place either before or after an arrest.
If after arrest, this is a strip search and it takes place in custody. It is authorised by a custody sergeant and covered under a different power.
More thorough searches where intimate parts are exposed are to be conducted out of public view, e.g. home address, Police station, by two officers of the same sex.
A Local BCU Inspector must authorise this type of search, no matter your age. If you are under 18, an appropriate adult must be present regardless of where this type of search takes place, unless there is a risk of serious harm and further authorised by the Inspector, e.g. the risk of swallowing drugs or using a weapon to harm yourself or others around you.
If the subject is under 18 and does not wish a parent, guardian or A/Adult to be there, have they explained that in the presence of the parent, guardian or A/Adult and does the parent, guardian or A/Adult agree? In these circumstances a written record MUST be made detailing the facts and offered to all parties to sign.
Anyone under 18 needs to have an appropriate adult present if they are to be ‘’strip-searched’’. Only exception is in urgent cases where there is risk of harm or if you have stated you don’t want an appropriate adult there.
This decision must be recorded and signed by an appropriate adult. If you do not want a parent/guardian or appropriate adult present during the search, you can tell the police.
The police MUST tell your parent or guardian of your wishes. There MUST be a written record detailing the request and signed in agreement by all parties.
Under S117 PACE (Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, section 117), police may use reasonable force to carry out their lawful duties.
Police officers define ‘reasonable’ force as what is necessary for a person to be compliant and / or restrained and to minimise the risk of harm to the individual, the police officer or the public.
Police also have the power to arrest a person where an officer has been obstructed in the execution of their duty. They need to take reasonable steps to follow these rules or the search may be considered unlawful.
Some young people have described the experience of being stopped and searched as being distressing, scary, frustrating or unfair.
Trying to stay calm when you are stopped and knowing your rights and what the police are and are not allowed to do can help in this type of interaction.
You have a right to complain if you’re not happy with how you’ve been treated by the police.
If you’ve got a problem or you’re unhappy about something that happened to you which involved the police, it can usually be sorted out by
If they cannot resolve the issue, you can complain to the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC). They set the rules that police forces must follow when handling complaints.
- The IOPC has oversight of police complaints made to 43 police forces across England and Wales. This means they have access to data and can analyse it to look at trends, patterns and issues.
- The IOPC are not the police – they make decisions independently of the police and government.
- Police forces handle most complaints locally.
- The IOPC investigate the most serious complaints, like those involving deaths, serious injuries or corruption.
Read the guide to police complaints for young people, watch the video below or visit the complaints guide page.
Youth Panel – Guide to the police complaints system for young people
You can also complain about the way you have been treated during your stop and search by reporting the incident through an app by Y-Stop.
Visit the y-stop page and download the app.
Recording the police
Can you record the police on your mobile phone? Yes. There is nothing to stop you. The Metropolitan Police cover this on the photography advice webpage.
"Members of the public and the media do not need a permit to film or photograph in public places and police have no power to stop them filming or photographing incidents or police personnel."
Recording film footage of a police incident, or taking photographs of their actions, is not illegal. Some police might not like it and may ask you to stop.
You should be a reasonable distance away from the incident they are dealing with when recording, and the officer(s) must be allowed to complete their search. If you do anything that interferes with their search, then the officer(s) may use obstruction legislation, which means you could be arrested for obstructing a police officer.
The officers should also be recording the encounter on a body-worn camera. Read more about the pros and cons of recording stop and search.
Sources of support
Tower Hamlets has several youth services and clubs in the borough. If you are not already attending one, please look at the Local Offer for services that are near you.
You can also access Kooth online. Kooth is a free online counselling and emotional wellbeing support service for young people aged 11-19 in City and Hackney.
Kooth has no referrals or waiting lists and young people can access it anonymously. It’s open 365 days a year from noon to 10pm weekdays and from 6 to 10pm on Saturday and Sundays.
You can phone Childline on 0800 1111 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
You can text Shout, a 24/7 UK crisis text service available for times when people feel they need immediate support.
Text the word ‘SHOUT’ to ‘85258’ and you will be in touch with a trained Crisis Volunteer.
Useful websites and information to take anti-discriminatory action
For up-to-date information visit the Police stop and search powers.
Just for Kids Law – Emergency 24-hour Crime Contact Line
If you need help at the police station or have been contacted by the police who wish to interview you, please contact 020 3174 2279 during office hours.
You can also call emergency 24-hour Crime Contact Line 07886 755 321 during out-of-office hours or visit the Just for Kids Law website. You can also visit the Appropriate adult website for more details.