Police in England and Wales face inquiry into possible racial bias after public apology over stop and search

The police watchdog is launching a probe into whether officers across England and Wales racially discriminate against ethnic minorities. 

The Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) review will focus on the use of force and stop and search amid tensions over the police’s handling of recent cases that have been caught on camera. 

IOPC director general Michael Lockwood said a review will be launched in the coming months, with a race discrimination focus “to establish the trends and patterns which might help drive real change in policing practice”. 

It comes after the Met Police chief issued a public apology to sprinter Bianca Williams over the "distress" caused to her by officers during a stop and search.

Police officer numbers in England and Wales have fallen by more than 20,000 since 2009, with a reduction from 144,353 to 122,395 in 2018. Credit: PA

He said: “Evidence of disproportionality in the use of police powers has long been a concern which impacts on confidence in policing, particularly in the BAME (black, Asian and minority ethnic) communities. 

“But even with the numbers and the statistics, particularly from stop and search data, we still need to better understand the causes and what can and should be done to address this. 

“In the coming months, we will be launching race discrimination as a thematic area of focus to establish the trends and patterns which might help drive real change in policing practice. 

“Thematic case selection involves independently investigating more cases where racial discrimination may be a factor in order to develop a body of evidence to identify systemic issues which should be addressed.” 

Metropolitan Police Commissioner Dame Cressida Dick Credit: Yui Mok/PA

Metropolitan Police Commissioner Dame Cressida Dick apologised this week to athlete Bianca Williams for the “distress” caused by a stop and search. 

A video of the incident, which saw the Great Britain sprinter and her partner Ricardo dos Santos pulled from their car in a London street, was posted online by former Olympic 100m champion Linford Christie. 

Mr Lockwood, who noted the IOPC only sees a small number of cases where discrimination is alleged, said: “Initially we will focus on investigating more cases where there is an indication that disproportionality impacts the BAME community, including stop and search and use of force. 

“We will also be investigating more cases where victims from BAME communities have felt unfairly treated by the police.” 

Team GB athlete Bianca Williams Credit: Jonathan Brady/PA

This could include whether the police are treating allegations of hate crime from BAME people seriously, and if there are cases where they are failing to treat them as victims of crime. 

The Guardian reports that the Met receives more than 250 complaints alleging racism on average each year, and less than 1% are upheld. 

Mr Lockwood added: “Increasing our focus on investigating cases where racial discrimination may be a factor means we will be able to really look at these encounters between the police and the public to identify any emerging themes. We can than see if there is a need to change policing policy or practice. 

“This is about identifying where we are seeing good and bad practice, and where there are then opportunities to drive real learning and change. 

“We know this is an issue of community concern. Our police forces can only police effectively with the trust and confidence of the community they serve.”