Today, a Dutch paper published a little research triggered by a politician outing the English phrase (abbreviated) "65 percent of them have been detained by the police at least once."

I think, and checking online dictionaries seems to confirm it, that detained means:

apprehended and keep in custody for a (short) while.

The newspaper however translated it with aanhouden. In Dutch this usually means:

stopped by a policeman for a (small) offense, which may result in a fine or worse.

The severity of either is different and the research results published by the newspaper will be different depending on the understanding of the English word detained. If you cycle on a pedestrian zone, you are "aangehouden" and fined, but you are not detained (at least I hope not).

How would you paraphrase that in English, or do I misunderstand the wider meaning of detained?

More context

In response to Kris's request below, I'm afraid it's hard to give a better context. The whole reason for the Dutch research article was to check the claims that the politician made. In the speech of the politician, he didn't give a context, he just said "65 percent of them have been detained by the police at least once.", where them refers to a certain minority.

The discussion in the journalistic article is about whether or not the claim is true. It can be assumed that he means to say that "65% of group X were brought to prison", at the same time knowing that the figures he referred to talk about "65% of group X was ever stopped or halted or had otherwise a registered encounter with the police".

I wondered whether the politician would have deliberately chosen the wrong word, or whether the chosen word is just correct, which is why I popped the question.

Since I don't want this to be an extension of any political debate, I didn't want to point to the original source of the politician (you may also call it shame), which he made on Fox News.

  • If I may speak colloquially, I'd call it being hassled. Commented May 15, 2012 at 14:12
  • Can you provide context?
    – Kris
    Commented May 15, 2012 at 15:35
  • @Kris: is that a question to me or to cornbread? My context is the referred-to article and the examples I gave. Can you be more specific?
    – Abel
    Commented May 15, 2012 at 17:39
  • Abel, provide the report in more detail if you can: 'detained' in what circumstances? Accordingly, the meaning could change.
    – Kris
    Commented May 15, 2012 at 18:16
  • ... linking to the Dutch paper does not help us English speakers.
    – Kris
    Commented May 15, 2012 at 18:20

3 Answers 3


When dealing with police, detained indicates something closer to an arrest. We would use stopped most of the time for minor issues like a traffic violation.

I would say that your understanding is correct.

"If you cycle in a pedestrian zone, you are stopped by the police and fined but not detained. If you are drunk and causing a disturbance, you will be arrested and detained."

  • That makes sense and seeing it written down reminds me of having heard the phrase before. That also feeds my opinion that the journalist wrongly understood the English phrase.
    – Abel
    Commented May 15, 2012 at 15:07
  • It was not said by 'the police'. The common man understands it like "I've urgent work, don't detain me in conversation now. Ttyl!" So I think it's simpler actually.
    – Kris
    Commented May 16, 2012 at 7:29

I look at it this way.

There's a stream of people/ vehicles passing a check point. One at a time. Each is 'stopped' (literally) and checked (for papers?) and if found OK, let move on.

A person who fails to produce the papers may be asked to go back, not let pass.

If a person or his papers are found unconvincing, they may be asked to move aside and wait (to be considered later) while the next person/ vehicle moves forward for the check. The person removed from the line can be said to be 'detained' (held back) in plain English.


In the UK we use the specific phrase 'stop and search' (sometimes hyphenated, 'stop-and-search'; either can be correct) to describe police stopping a person on the street and briefly searching them for illegal materials. In news items and popular discourse the phrase is primarily used in the context (as you described) of people of visible minority backgrounds being disproportionately targeted by police for this procedure. In a sentence like your example it would probably be phrased:

65% of [group] have been subjected to stop-and-search at least once

or alternatively if the context has already been established as stop-and-search, then:

65% of [group] have been stopped at least once.

  • 1
    There's also stop and account which does not involve a search.
    – Andrew Leach
    Commented Aug 6, 2014 at 14:14

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