Police Powers

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Police Powers

  • Most police powers are set out under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984.

The 8 Codes of Practice under PACE

  • Code A= Stop and search powers
  • Code B= Powers to search premises and seize property
  • Code C= Dealing with detention and questioning of suspects
  • Code D= Rules for identification procedures
  • Code E= Rules for tape recording interviews with suspects
  • Code F= Rules for video recording interviews with suspects
  • Code G= Powers of arrest
  • Code H= Detention, treatment and questioning of those arrested under s41 Terrorism Act 2000

Powers to Stop and Search

Powers under PACE

  • Main police power to stop and search is s1 PACE
  • Means police can stop and search people/ vehicles in a public place
  • Must have reasonable grounds that the suspect has stolen goods or prohibited articles (Offensive weapons, burglary equipment etc.)
  • Police officer must give his name and station
  • Osman vs DPP
  • Can only be asked to remove outer coat, jacket and gloves (s2 (9) PACE).
  • Police officer must produce a written report 
  • The suspect is entitled to a copy of the report
  • If out of public view, copper can ask suspect to remove shoes and t shirt.
  • Search must be carried out at similar place to the stop.

Code A:

  • "Reasonable suspicion cannot be based on personal factors"
  • Powers must be used fairly and responsibly
  • Race, age, appearance, previous convictions cannot be used as the excuse
  • Must be an objective basis for the stop and search, such as information
  • Reasonable suspicion can be based on behavior
  • Police officer can base his suspicions on appearance IF the suspect is showing membership to a gang who often carry knives etc.

Other powers to stop and search;

  • Misuse of Drugs Act 1971
  • Terrorism Act 2000
  • Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994: A police officer can stop anyone without any reason, if a senior officer has authorised it, in anticipation of violence.

Voluntary Searches:

  • Since 2004, Code of Practice A means that voluntary searches are no longer allowed, unless the officer has reasonable suspicion


  • Increasing use. 1 million stops and searches in 1998, 100,000 in 1986.
  • MacPherson report found that police officers were institutionally racist (Led to decrease in the use of powers.
  • Certain groups more likely to be stopped.
  • Black people are 6 times more likely to be stopped.
  • Now about 850,000 stops and searches every year

Balance between crime prevention and human rights:

  • Police cannot ask people to remove religious attire.
  • This lead to the 7/7 bombings

Does it lead to arrest?

  • Before 1999, 10% of stops and searches resulted in arrest
  • In 1996, Tottenham had 50% less searches, 17% more arrests, but 17% more crime.

Powers of Arrest:

  • Powers of arrest under PACE were changed in 2005 by the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act

Powers of arrest under PACE:

  • Section 24 PACE.
  • Police can arrest anyone if they have reasonable suspicion that an offence is being committed, has been committed or will be committed.
  • Very wide powers of arrest, but…


J Drabble

Detailed notes on the whole topic of police powers - excellent tool which could be devised into flash cards for self testing.

One point to note: in relation to detention a suspect can only be held a maximum of 24 hours for a summary offence and must be either released or charged.

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