At times it is necessary for police officers to search a person, bag, vehicle, or residence. Officers are committed to respecting your constitutional rights while maintaining safety. When an officer begins a search or asks if he or she can search you or your belongings, they are balancing the need for the search with the rights and safety of everyone involved. If an officer asks your consent to search, you may refuse the search. An officer may ask for your consent to search even if he or she has legal grounds to conduct the search without your consent. In that case he or she will likely proceed with the search even if you do not consent. Do not resist the officer. If you feel you have been wrongfully searched, you can file a complaint with the police agency.

Below is additional information on the different types of searches and how police operate:

Types of Searches

Protective Search (pat-down or frisk): Is conducted by a law enforcement officer for the purpose of ensuring against threats to safety (as from a concealed weapon) or sometimes to prevent the destruction of evidence.

Consent Search: Is a warrantless search conducted upon the voluntarily-given consent of a person having authority over the place or things to be searched.

Search Incident to Arrest: This rule permits an officer to perform a warrantless search during or immediately after a lawful arrest. This search is limited to only the person arrested and the area immediately surrounding the person in which the person may gain possession of a weapon, in some way effect an escape, or destroy or hide evidence.

Search Warrant: In many cases when an officer wants to search a person or their belongings, vehicle or residence, the officer must get a search warrant. In order to obtain a search warrant, the officer must present the case to a judge who will decide whether or not to issue a warrant. In some cases, officers will hold a person’s possessions or prevent someone from entering a residence or room until a warrant is granted or declined.

Exceptions to the search warrant requirement:

Officers must obtain a search warrant unless the following exceptions apply.

  • If an officer has reasonable suspicion to believe that the person is armed and dangerous, they may perform an outer clothing pat-down or frisk of the individual.
  • An arrest was made. The officer may then search the person and areas within their immediate control in a search incident to arrest.
  • If there is contraband or illegal activity in plain view, the officer may enter and/or search.
  • The person gave their consent to search. In the situation where an officer wants to search a residence, any adult within the residence can give consent to search the common areas of the residence.
  • The officer was in hot pursuit. If an officer is pursuing a suspect and the suspect runs into a residence/building, officers can follow the suspect into the building and search anywhere a person might be hiding.
  • Exigent circumstances exist. Some examples include an emergency, a person in danger or the belief that evidence is being destroyed.
  • Automobile exception. If a vehicle is readily mobile and probable cause exists to believe that it contains contraband, the vehicle can be searched without a warrant.

File a Complaint with NDPD

If you disagree with an officer’s actions, do not argue with the officer at the time of the stop. Comply and remain calm. You may seek an explanation from the officer’s supervisor one of the following ways: