Met Commissioner says stop and search keeps lethal knives off London’s streets

The Metropolitan Police Commissioner has defended the use of stop and search powers as a means of ridding London’s streets of lethal weapons.

Dame Cressida Dick acknowledged that a higher proportion of young black men were being stopped by officers than young white men, but insisted no-one was targeted because of the colour of their skin.

“It wouldn’t be right or lawful,” she said in an interview with the Sunday Times magazine.

“We are targeting young people who are likely to be carrying knives and guns and drugs, we’re in among the drug markets and what it means is, overall, a higher proportion of young black lads being stopped than white lads,” Dame Cressida said.

She added: “The way we look at it is to look at positive outcome rates: the proportion of the total where we find something you shouldn’t be carrying. Somewhere between 23 and 25% of those we stop have something on them they shouldn’t have and that’s the same whether they’re black, white or Asian.”

Dame Cressida told the Sunday Times that “hundreds and hundreds” of knives were taken off the streets through stop and search action every month, adding: “These are not little penknives but big Rambo knives and hunting knives, truly horrible, lethal things that there is only one reason to have.”

Figures show black people are almost four times more likely to be stopped and searched in the street than white people in London.

They are also six times more likely to be stopped in their vehicles, according to City Hall.

The Met has faced controversy and accusations of alleged racial profiling following a series of incidents filmed and shared online, including the vehicle stop of Team GB athlete Bianca Williams and her Portuguese sprinter boyfriend Ricardo Dos Santos in west London in July.

Bianca Williams
Bianca Williams

Dame Cressida did not comment on that case to the Sunday Times but highlighted officers’ frustration over viral videos that are “unfair” and do not “tell the whole story”, with police not able to give full public explanations while an incident is investigated.

In another incident in August, Labour MP Dawn Butler, a vocal critic of stop and search, accused police of racially profiling her and called on officers to “stop associating being black and driving a nice car with crime” after a vehicle she was travelling in was pulled over in error for questioning.

The former shadow equalities secretary said she was the passenger in a BMW driven by a friend, who like her is black, in Hackney, east London, when they were stopped by Metropolitan Police officers on blue lights.

Earlier this month, Dame Cressida assured Londoners that racist officers would be sacked after admitting her force “is not free of discrimination, racism or bias”.

She said her force would “strain every sinew” to hit a target for 40% of new recruits to be from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds (BAME) from 2022.

Speaking to the Sunday Times, she said material shared on social media in the wake of the death of George Floyd in police custody in the US in May was being “confused” with British policing and may have “alienated” young people.

“They misunderstand that what’s happened in another country is what happens here,” she said.

Dame Cressida added: “The George Floyd killing was absolutely awful to watch and has sparked this extraordinary global movement that has given some exciting opportunities, but also given people an impression of policing that is not the way things are here.”