Met Police officers have used stop and search powers on Black men for actions as small as a fist-bump, which police took to indicate an exchange of drugs, a watchdog has found.
Following a review of recent cases involving the London police force, the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) said the “legitimacy of stop and searches was being undermined” by a number of issues, including a lack of understanding about the impact of disproportionality and poor communication.
In one investigation a Black man in possession of someone else’s credit card was suspected of having stolen it even after providing a credible explanation, while during another officers exercised stop and search powers after two Black men fist-bumped, believing them to be exchanging drugs.
In two investigations, the smell of cannabis formed the sole grounds given for the stop.
And almost every time that handcuffs were used, the use of other tactics instead could have de-escalated the encounter, the watchdog said.
Other issues highlighted include police failing to use bodycam video from the outset or seek further evidence after the initial grounds for stop and search proved unfounded.
Several of the investigations found that, although an initial search failed to confirm suspicions, officers were slow to end the encounter.
The IOPC has now recommended 11 ways the Met Police can improve its use of stop and search powers.
The watchdog’s recommendations include offering better education for officers about their powers, improving monitoring from above, ensuring racial prejudice is removed and making sure the stop and search encounter is ended swiftly after suspicion is allayed.
IOPC London regional director Sal Naseem said: “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 [Metropolitan Police Service] takes steps to ensure that assumptions, stereotypes and bias, conscious or unconscious, are not informing or affecting their officers’ decision-making on stop and search.”
There were 558,973 stop and searches carried out in the year to March 2020 under Section 1 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (Pace) in England and Wales, according to Home Office figures published on Tuesday.
This is the highest number of stops and searches since 2013/14 (872,518), but still below the peak in 2010/11 (1,179,746), the report said.
It is also an increase of 193,419 (53%) compared to 2018/19, when 365,554 searches were recorded.
Naseem added: “The review highlights the need for the Met to reflect on the impact this kind of decision-making is having.
“There is also a need to better support officers on the front line to do their jobs effectively with the right training and supervision so they aren’t subjected to further complaints and investigation. There is clearly much room for improvement.”