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The police have a range of statutory powers to stop and search people, as the College of Policing explains:  

Each stop and search encounter must have a basis in law. The officer carrying out the stop and search must only do so using one of the powers provided for in legislation and it must be the right power in the particular circumstances.

The most widely used powers require the officer to have reasonable grounds for suspicion. Other powers do not, but only apply where a number of preconditions exist and should be used with particular care.

These statutory powers are subject to additional guidance set out in PACE Code of Practice A (issued under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984) and the Best Use of Stop and Search Scheme (BUSSS) issued by the Home Office and the College of Policing.  Code A is statutory guidance, but BUSSS is a voluntary scheme that police forces can choose to participate in.  BUSSS and the most recent version of Code A were introduced in 2014 following a Home Office consultation on stop and search.  Announcing the changes, the then Home Secretary Theresa May said

…they should contribute to a significant reduction in the overall use of stop-and-search, better and more intelligence-led stop-and-search, and improved stop-to-arrest ratios. But I want to make myself absolutely clear: if the numbers do not come down, if stop-and-search does not become more targeted, if those stop-to-arrest ratios do not improve considerably, the Government will return with primary legislation to make those things happen, because nobody wins when stop-and-search is misapplied. It is a waste of police time. It is unfair, especially to young, black men. It is bad for public confidence in the police.

The most commonly used powers requiring reasonable grounds for suspicion are those under section 1 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 and section 23 of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971.  Guidance on what constitutes reasonable grounds for suspicion is set out in PACE Code of Practice A.

The most common “no suspicion” powers are those under section 60 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 and under section 47A of the Terrorism Act 2000.

Statistics on stop and search are available from the Home Office collection Police Powers and Procedures England and Wales Statistics.

Statistics on stop and search rates by ethnic minority are available in the Ethnicity Facts and Figures collection from Gov.UK.

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