Walworth stop and search investigation finds no case for misconduct but identifies learning
An Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) investigation of a complaint by a driver who was stopped and searched in Walworth, south London, found no case to answer for misconduct but has resulted in three Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) officers being told to attend a community stop and search event.
We recommended that the officers should attend this to understand the impact felt by those in the community who have been subjected to the tactic. The MPS has also agreed to write a letter to the driver detailing that he was not connected with any wrongdoing at the time of the incident and apologise for any inconvenience caused.
The 38-year-old man was stopped while driving in Walworth Road, SE17 on 5 May 2020 and a video from the incident was shared widely on social media. The driver and his car were searched under the Misuse of Drugs Act, and although handcuffs were not used it was suggested by one of the four officers present that they could be.
We began our independent investigation on 19 May 2020 after the man complained that the officers racially profiled him prior to the search, and that he was subsequently treated differently because of his race. The man believed that as he had previous interaction with the same officers, this initial encounter influenced the officers’ decision to search him. He also complained that the officers failed to observe social distancing rules.
Our investigation was completed in May this year. The evidence we gathered did not suggest the complainant was racially profiled. We found the decision to make the stop was based on local intelligence including knowledge of drug dealing and gang activity there. We confirmed through body worn video (BWV) that the officers did not know who was in the car before it was stopped, as it had tinted windows.
As part of our investigation we also reviewed the officers’ previous stop and search records and the rationale provided by the officers for their actions.
Based on the evidence gathered, we found no case to answer for misconduct for any of the officers. However, we did identify a number of performance issues where the officers’ behaviour had fallen short of public expectations. These included making or failing to challenge comments which, while not made within earshot of the complainant, could have been construed as disrespectful. Social distancing guidelines were breached by three officers during the incident and BWV was not used in accordance with policy.
The force accepted that while these breaches did not meet the threshold for disciplinary action, the officers should be subject to reflective practice. Following our recommendations this included three of them having further equality and diversity training; attending a community event on stop and search to listen to and understand the impact felt by those in the community who have been subjected to the policing tactic; and to further reflect on their conflict management and use of de-escalation tactics.
IOPC Regional Director Sal Naseem said: “Stop and search is an important policing tool but its use must be reasonable, proportionate and necessary.
“It is an intrusive power which disproportionately affects Black communities. The community needs to have confidence that racial bias plays no part in how this policing power is used. Without this, the trust and confidence they have in the police service will diminish.
“In this case we found no case to answer for misconduct, but we did find that this incident could have been handled better and identified learning in the form of reflective practice. That’s why we recommended the police officers involved engage with the community itself to understand the impact their actions can have.”
Evidence gathered during our investigation included taking statements from the complainant, the officers involved and other witnesses. We also looked at BWV footage, and studied policing policies concerning stop and search, BWV and the use of personal protective equipment.