Following the murder of Sarah Everard at the hands of a serving Metropolitan Police officer, questions have been raised about how people should react if approached by a lone police officer.
While women’s groups have called for a structural change in the police to eliminate misogyny in its ranks, I explains your legal rights if you are stopped by an officer.
Who can approach me?
A police officer does not need to be in uniform to stop you, but if he is in civilian clothes, he must show you his warrant card. This typically includes an officer’s photograph, name, ID number, force name, and a security hologram.
According to the College of Policing and senior officers at the Met, it is highly unusual for an officer in civilian clothes to be deployed alone.
Police Community Support Officers (PCSOs) must be in uniform before they can stop and question you.
Do I have to answer questions?
The police may ask you who you are, where you are going and what you are doing in the area where you are.
If you are approached and questioned by a police officer, you usually do not have to stop or respond. If there is no other reason to suspect that you have committed a crime, your refusal to answer a question cannot be used as a reason to search or arrest you.
However, according to Liberty’s Human Rights Watch, you are legally obligated to answer certain questions from the police if they have reason to believe you have been involved in antisocial behavior.
This is behavior that can cause “harassment, alarm or distress”.
If you are arrested for this reason, the police are only allowed to ask for your name and address, but not responding is a criminal offense. Giving false information can also constitute an offense; this can be seen as obstructing the police.
What if I am arrested under the “stop and search” powers?
The police are authorized to stop and search you if they have “reasonable grounds” to suspect that you are carrying illegal drugs, a weapon, a stolen object or anything that could be used to commit a crime.
The only other circumstances in which you can be stopped and searched are if the police suspect that you are carrying a weapon, serious acts of violence could occur, or if you are in an area subject to an arrest order and excavation.
However, in this case, the stop and search must be authorized by a senior police officer.
What you can ask the police for during a stop and search
Before searching you, the police are required by law to tell you their name and the police station to which they belong.
They should also explain:
- What they think they’ll find when they search you
- The reason they want to look for you
- Why they are legally allowed to search you.
You are also entitled to a record, or a copy of the record, of the research. If that is not possible at that time, they should tell you how you can get a copy.
What if they ask me to take off clothes?
All officers are authorized to ask you to remove your coat, jacket and gloves. If they want to take off other clothes than that, they have to be the same sex as you.
The police have the right to ask you to remove religious clothing such as a veil, but must take you to a private location where you cannot be seen by the public.
What did the Met police say?
Metropolitan Police said those worried about the legitimacy of their arrest should shout for help at passers-by, run to a nearby house, knock on doors or wave at a bus for help.
The force also suggested “if you are able to do it, call 999”.
However, this has been widely criticized as “ridiculous” and “extraordinary”.
Women Equality Party co-founder Catherine Mayer said: “Amazing advice to women in the Met Police, so many shades of wrong. Notably in that Wayne Couzens was who he claimed to be, a police officer on duty. “