Cressida Dick, the commissioner of London’s Metropolitan police, appears to be in denial about the extent of institutional racism in the force she leads. The evidence that some of her officers and policies do discriminate is hiding in plain sight. Black people in the capital are four times more likely to be Tasered than their white peers. During the coronavirus lockdown, her officers were more than twice as likely to issue fines to black people as to white people. Perhaps if her force resembled the city it policed, such disparities would shrink. London cannot wait for this to happen. At the current rate of recruitment, the Met will be disproportionately white for a century.
There is a pressing need for reform. Ms Dick said last year that the Met had won the war against racism in the ranks. She has been wilfully blind about the failure of her force to treat black and white people alike. Her apology for the “distress” suffered by two black athletes who were pulled over in their car and handcuffed in a stop and search that turned up nothing but their three-month-old baby in the back seat is no turning point. It was an attempt to deflect mounting criticism for the way stop and search has been applied in the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests. During the coronavirus lockdown, when crime rates fell, stop and search continued for the sake of it. In May alone, one in eight young black males in London were stopped and searched.
The Met’s defence is that this group is disproportionately likely to be the perpetrators of violent crime and that the policy is successful in taking dangerous weapons off the streets. Desperation over knife crime in many communities led to more willingness to trust the police. That trust appears not to be repaid. Smartphone footage shows a nurse humiliated; another case revealed a father and son stopped for being black and on a bicycle. Only about a fifth of searches lead to an arrest or sanction. Most of these are for petty drug offences. Police should be apologising to the 80% of people they have inconvenienced and routinely handcuffed during stop and search because their suspicions were unfounded.
Ms Dick’s claim that stop and search is an effective tool to fight crime flies in the face of the research. A landmark 2018 study by University College London found no clear evidence that stop and search had a significant effect on violent crime. The policy had fallen out of favour since its use peaked in 2010.
Theresa May’s stint as home secretary ushered in a revolution in policing. Mrs May, to her credit, understood the counterproductive nature of the policy and made it more difficult to use. However, a panic over knife crime has seen politicians return to robust policing methods, a theme enthusiastically taken up by the current home secretary, Priti Patel.
There is a place for stop and search, but there must be safeguards applied to this intrusive and coercive policy. Surely knife crime can be driven down without state powers used against swathes of innocent people, disproportionately from the black community with the understandable damage that causes. The section 60 powers, which allow officers to conduct “no-suspicion” stop and searches and have been widened by Mrs Patel, should be repealed.
Ms Dick could do worse than follow the lead of her West Midlands counterpart who apologised last month to the black community for failings in “how we have policed them”. Black people in London are three times more likely to be stopped and searched than in Birmingham. This has little to do with crime. It is more about the culture and tradition of the Met, where the police seem to have a fixed idea who the “criminals” are and see it as their job to control them. London’s police force appears poorly managed, poorly disciplined and insufficiently accountable to the public it serves. Ms Dick needs to get a grip. Her departure right now would be a substitute for real change rather than a catalyst for it. What communities in the UK’s capital need is to be policed without being inflicted with a reign of terror.
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