2. Under what circumstances can the police stop and search me in a public area?
As mentioned in the previous Q&A, police officers may stop a person acting in a suspicious manner. In addition to stopping and questioning, the police officers can search that person for anything that may present a danger to the police officers.
Under section 54(2) of the Police Force Ordinance (Cap. 232), police officers may also stop a person whom they reasonably suspect of having committed, or being about to commit, or intending to commit, an offence. The police officers may require that person show his ID card or passport and may detain that person on the spot for such time as is reasonable to make inquiries. The police officers can also search that person for anything likely to be of value to the investigation of the suspected offence. The suspicion on the part of the police officers in these circumstances must be “reasonable”, which is to be judged on an objective basis with valid reasons. For example, the actions of a person who is carrying a knife and waiting nervously outside a jewellery shop may give rise to a reasonable suspicion.
No matter whether the police officers exercise their power to search a person under section 54(1) or (2) of the Police Force Ordinance (Cap. 232), there is no power to seize anything found on the person being searched.
The police also have the power to stop, search and detain any vehicle in or upon which there is reason to suspect that anything stolen or unlawfully obtained may be found (section 55 of the Police Force Ordinance).
Where the police reasonably believe an unlawful assembly or riot has occurred, is occurring, or may occur in any place, and offensive weapons have been or may be used during such an offence, they may stop and search any person in a public place within the vicinity to ascertain whether or not that person is guilty of such an offence (section 33(6) of the Public Order Ordinance, Cap. 245).
A person can be searched only by a police officer of the same sex . If there is no female police officer on the spot to search a female suspect, that woman should be brought to the nearest police station so that the search can be carried out by a female officer.
Under section 50(6) of the Police Force Ordinance, police officers may search an arrested person and take possession of anything they may reasonably suspect to be of value to the investigation of the suspected offence.