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Know Your Rights

“Criminal”. Whether you are thinking in terms of noun or adjective, long gone is the caricature of the shady character, adorned in black and white stripes, masked eyes, and carrying a sack marked “swag”. Those who deal with “criminals” on a regular basis will no doubt agree that such a stereotype is never near to the truth. The characters whom they meet are more unassuming and less obvious individuals, although equally responsible for the most heinous of crimes.

Take for example the recent arrest of the Metropolitan Police Force’s own staff member who is being investigated for conspiracy to cause misconduct in public office, or indeed those celebrities being questioned about historic sexual assaults. Innocent until proven guilty, of course, but the reality is that “criminals” come from all walks of life.

It follows that the police are tasked with a difficult job in identifying “criminals”, tracking them down and bringing them to justice. However that doesn’t mean that they should be freely permitted to exercise their powers without reasonable cause. How would you feel if as a result of a police officer’s “hunch” you spent hours (or even days) in a police cell for a crime that you had not committed? Whilst that sort of thing might make good reading in a Sherlock Holmes novel, it is only right that in real life police officers are required to exercise their powers in accordance with the law. It is for that reason that members of the public should be clear as to what their rights are.

Here is a short guide to “knowing your rights” and what you must look out for if you are ever stopped and searched by a police officer. Firstly, who is stopping you? It will be obvious if the police officer is in uniform, but if they are not they must show you their warrant card. A police community support officer (PCSO) must always be in uniform in order to stop you.

Secondly, although you may be stopped and asked what you are doing, why you are in the area and where you are going – you don’t actually have to answer any of these questions. Thirdly, in order for you to be searched, the police must have reasonable grounds to suspect that you are carrying illegal drugs, a weapon, stolen property or something which could be used to commit a crime, such as a crowbar.

The only time you can be stopped and searched without reasonable grounds is if it has been approved by a senior police officer and it is suspected that serious violence may take place, you are carrying a weapon or have used one or if you are in a specific location/area.

Fourthly, if you are to be searched, the police officer must inform you of a number of matters before searching you. These include: their name and police station; what they expect to find (e.g. drugs); why they want to search you; why they are legally allowed to search you and that you are entitled to a record of the search and how you can get a copy.

Finally, a police officer can ask you to remove your coat, jacket or gloves – removing anything more than these should take place out of public view and by a police officer who is the same sex as you.

Remember, being stopped and searched doesn’t mean you are being arrested even if it does make you feel like a “criminal”.

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