UK Police Commissioner Defends Officers Accused of Racial Profiling

August 13, 2020 Updated: August 13, 2020

Scotland Yard on Wednesday defended police officers accused of racial profiling, saying that “trial by social media” can undermine the police’s ability to protect communities.

Dawn Butler, a black Labour MP and former shadow secretary of state for women and equalities, was in her friend’s vehicle when police officers stopped it by mistake last Sunday. She released a video of the incident in which she implied the officers had used racial profiling.

Butler and her friend were driving through Hackney, east London, when the vehicle was pulled over by police officers. When Butler asked why they had been stopped, the officers said that they were doing “proactive patrol” in the area “combating gang and knife crimes.” The officers added that there was a mistake when they ran the number plate and there were “no issues.”

Butler then asked if they had been profiled because they had come from a different area, for the type of car they were in, or for the colour of their skin. She told the police that they were very polite, but the reason she was stopped worried her.

After the incident, Butler was interviewed by British media outlets, speaking about what she called “institutional racism.”

“We’re two black people in a car driving through Hackney and they thought they’ll stop them,” she told Sky News.

“There is an institutional racism in the police, we know that, and it needs to be taken out. It is cancerous and it needs to be cut out of the police force and it’s urgent.”

Trial by Social Media Is Unfair: Commissioner

Stephen House, deputy commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, said in a statement on Wednesday that the officers involved had acted professionally and politely.

House said the officers stopped the car because of “human error,” and they didn’t know the colour of the people in the car because the vehicle’s windows were tinted.

“I have viewed all the available video material of that interaction and I have read their statements—the officers acted professionally and politely, explaining why the stop was made and, when realising there was a mistake, explaining this and continuing to answer the occupants’ questions,” House said. “Ms. Butler has said that she has no complaint about ‘how’ the stop was conducted, rather her concerns lie in why the stop was initiated and I have discussed these concerns with her.”

“The officers who undertook the stop were from the Violent Crime Task Force and were in the area as part of our proactive work to protect communities from violence,” he added.

House said there are “existing, appropriate, and proportionate processes” for police misconduct, but in this case the officers did not do anything wrong.

“The increasingly routine trial by social media is unfair and damaging to individual officers and has the potential to undermine the role our communities need us to do to protect them and keep them safe from violence,” he said.

“I am grateful to these officers, as I am to all our officers who act professionally, humanely, and in the service of the public.”

Butler said she had received online abuse as a result of the incident. She wrote on Twitter to thank those who had offered her support, saying that they “outweighed the abusive ones.”

House called the online abuse “unwarranted and unacceptable.”

“I would also like to condemn the abuse that some on social media have directed at Ms. Butler. It is unwarranted and unacceptable and we are working to support her,” he said.