Stop And Search: Over-Policing The Black Community, Nothing Changes
In July 2020, sprinter Ricardo Dos Santos was pulled over and handcuffed by police with his partner and fellow champion athlete Bianca Williams, while their three-month old son was in the car. Video footage of the stop-and-search, which showed the police acting violently towards the clearly distressed couple, was seen by thousands online and the Met Police referred itself to the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC, the police watchdog,). The couple believe they were racially profiled (both athletes are black), and the IOPC regional director for London said that the officers involved would face allegations that they had breached police standards of professional behaviour for duties and responsibilities and for equality and diversity.
In July 2021, it was announced that three out of the six officers involved in the stop and search of the couple were under investigation for gross misconduct. As of April 2022, the IOPC announced that four officers and an acting police sergeant would face a gross misconduct disciplinary hearing over the incident.
Last week, two years after the incident, Mr Dos Santos was stopped again and counted seven armed officers involved, one of whom took his baton out and, as seen in the video footage of the incident, appeared ready to smash the glass on Mr Dos Santos’ car out of frustration.
While there are a number of laws which give powers to the police to stop and search members of the public (the most common are outlined here), Mr Dos Santos rightly stated that this was over-policing for the police’s stated (and incorrect) belief that he was driving while on his phone.
Again, the Met Police referred itself to the IOPC following this incident.
This kind of behaviour comes as no surprise to many. Indeed, many pre-existing inequalities in how certain communities are over-policed were exposed during the pandemic. New statistics obtained following a freedom of information request to the National Police Chief’s council reveal that black and Asian people are more likely to have been handed covid fines. This is just one example of the litany of ways people from ethnic minority backgrounds face disparity in the criminal justice system.
Following the uncovering of a series of new systemic failings, including thousands of crimes going unrecorded and ongoing errors in stop and search, HM Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC, who independently assess police forces and policing), made the unprecedented decision to place the Met police into special measures. Sir Stephen House, acting commissioner of the Met following the departure of Cressida Dick in February this year, received a letter from HMIC indicating 14 areas of concern and failings. Regarding stop and search cases, the letter from HMIC raised the concern that “in roughly a quarter of stop and search cases, failure to record the grounds for the search in sufficient detail to enable an independent judgment to be made as to whether reasonable grounds existed.”
Mr Dos Santos, a Portuguese national based in London, expressed that he was “not surprised [he] had to go through this again” and “does not feel safe in London” as a result of police behaviour. While public confidence in police may already be dangerously low, it is increasingly worrying that these well known problems persist and as Mr Dos Santos expressed “nothing has changed”.