discriminatory policing and the IOPC

On Tuesday 27 October the Guardian reported ONS figures for the year to end March 2020 which demonstrated that Black people in England and Wales show were nine times more likely to be stopped and searched than white people. The Guardian reported that 577,054 stops were carried out of which only 24% resulted in further action. Whereas the large majority of stops required reasonable suspicion on the part of the police, Black people were 18 times more likely than white people to be stopped and searched in cases where no reasonable suspicion was required (of which only 4% resulted in arrest). The Guardian also reported the Home Office’s acknowledgment that, whereas racial disparity in stop and search generally reduced between 2011-12 and 2014-15 “from six to four times higher respectively … it started to rise from 2015-16, reaching a peak in the previous two years, with the rate around 9.5 times higher for those identifying as black or black British compared to those who identify as white). In the latest year the disparity rate fell, decreasing to 8.9 times higher.”

A large increase (around 50%) in the use of stop and search in the year to end March 2020 was driven by the Metropolitan police which was responsible for around 50% of all stops and searches. This makes all the more concerning the 28 October 2020 report of the IOPC (Independent Office of Police Conduct) that the Met has made multiple errors in its use of the tactic. Among the reported examples was one case in which two Black men were stopped and searched for suspected drug dealing because they had fist bumped. In two cases the smell of cannabis formed the sole grounds given for the stop.  The IOPC concluded that “The legitimacy of stop and searches was being undermined by a lack of understanding about the impact of disproportionality, poor communication, consistent use of force over seeking cooperation, the failure to use body-worn video from the outset … and continuing to seek further evidence after the initial grounds for the stop and search were unfounded”.

IOPC London Regional Director Sal Naseem stated that “The review mirrors concerns expressed to us by communities across London. We saw a lack of understanding from officers about why their actions were perceived to be discriminatory. We recommended the MPS takes steps to ensure that assumptions, stereotypes and bias (conscious or unconscious) are not informing or affecting their officer’s decision making on stop and search.  The 11 recommendations made by the IOPC to the Met, all of which have been accepted, were that the Met:

  • “tak[e] steps to ensure that their officers better understand how their use of stop and search powers impacts individuals from groups that are disproportionately affected by those powers
  • ensur[e] there is a structure in place so leaders and supervisors are proactively monitoring and supervising the use of stop and search powers and addressing any concerning trends or patterns/ sharing any identified good practice at; individual, unit or organisational level
  • tak[e] steps to ensure that assumptions, stereotypes and bias (conscious or unconscious) are not informing or affecting officer’s decision making when carrying out stop and searches, especially when using these powers on people from Black communities
  • ensur[e] officers are not relying on the smell of cannabis alone when deciding to stop and search someone and use grounds based upon multiple objective factors
  • ensur[e] officers carrying out stop and searches always use the principles of GOWISELY* and engage in respectful, meaningful conversations with the persons being stopped
  • ensur[e] stop and search training incorporates a section on de-escalation, including the roles of supervisors and colleagues in controlling the situation and providing effective challenge
  • ensur[e] officers exercising stop and search powers are ending the encounters once their suspicion has been allayed, in a manner that minimises impact and dissatisfaction, unless there are further genuine and reasonable grounds for continued suspicion
  • ensur[e] officers exercising stop and search powers are not using restraint/handcuffs as a matter of routine and are only using these tools when reasonable, proportionate and necessary
  • amend[] stop and search records to include a question about whether any kind of force has been used. The records should also state where information about the kind of force will be recorded
  • ensur[e] officers are following APP and MPS policy and switching on their body-worn video camera early enough to capture the entirety of a stop and search interaction
  • [ensure that] supervisors tak[e] a proactive role in monitoring and ensuring compliance with body-worn video APP and MPS policy”.

* GOWISELY requires that officers:

  • “identify themselves to the person
  • show their warrant card if not in uniform
  • identify their police station
  • tell the person that they are being detained for the purpose of a search
  • explain the grounds for the search (or authorisation in the case of section 60 searches)
  • explain the object and purpose of the search
  • state the legal power they are using
  • inform the person that they are entitled to a copy of the search record and explain how this may be obtained”.

In addition to this review, the IOPC announced the investigation into racial disparities in stop and search across England and Wales in July 2020, upheld a complaint about a Met police stop on 20 September 2020, and announced an investigation into the stop and search by Met officers of athletes Bianca Williams and Ricardo Dos Santo in October 2020.

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