Thousands of searches in the capital are taking place each year without being filmed, reports Noah Vickers, Local Democracy Reporter
Concerns have been raised after data revealed the scale of police stop-and-searches carried out in London without the use of a body camera.
Officers are expected to activate the devices – usually worn on their chest – at the start of a stop-and-search or similar encounter, so that the camera can act as an “independent witness”.
Under normal circumstances, they will continue to record until it’s no longer “proportionate or necessary”.
New statistics show however that from January 2022 through to May 2023, some 6,225 searches in the capital were completed without being filmed. The Metropolitan Police said that, on occasion, “there may be technical or equipment failure, which means an encounter isn’t recorded”.
The data showing instances in which footage was not captured was requested by Caroline Pidgeon, a Liberal Democrat on the London Assembly, via a written question to mayor Sadiq Khan.
The 6,225 searches completed without the camera being switched on made up just two per cent of the total searches carried out in the 17 months covered by the data.
But Pidgeon, a former candidate for London mayor, said the fact it happened more than 6,000 times in that period, still “represents a significant number of individuals being stopped without video evidence of the interaction”.
She added: “We have seen over the last few decades how the disproportionate use of stop and search has led to decreased levels of trust between the police and communities. Stop and search is still being used three times more on black people in London than it is on white people.
“Ensuring cameras are switched on for all stop and searches, while not a fix in itself, might go some way to increasing trust and transparency in the Met’s use of stop and search.
“Alongside this we need to see the Met work with communities to look at a random selection of searches to assess the quality of the interaction and whether stop and search is being carried out respectfully and properly.”
A spokesperson for the Met Police said: “Used appropriately, stop and search powers save lives and is an important tactic to keep Londoners safe, helping us identify criminality and take dangerous weapons off our streets.
“However, we know from speaking to members of the community that stop and search can have a negative impact for individuals and communities, particularly when we get things wrong.
“We insist that every stop and search must be carried out with dignity and respect. The use of body worn video is mandatory in every encounter to ensure that we are as transparent as possible with the community we serve.
“Unfortunately on occasion there may be technical or equipment failure, which means an encounter isn’t recorded. We are consistently reviewing the use of body worn video, to ensure that it is fit for purpose, and that all officers are trained effectively. Our aim is to be 100 per cent compliant.”
The spokesperson added that the force is “committed to reducing disproportionality when crime and our use of powers fall unevenly across London’s communities” and that the Met has pledged “to take a more precise approach to stop and search, and carry out regular reviews to make sure we use these tactics appropriately”.
A spokesperson for Khan said: “The mayor is clear that stop and search is a vital policing tool and has an important role to play in making London safe.
“But every stop and search undertaken in the capital should be intelligence led and carried out with dignity and respect.
“Body worn video recordings of stop and searches are essential for monitoring how this power is used, and their rollout in recent years has substantially improved the accountability and transparency of all stop and search interactions.
“The Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime will continue to scrutinise the use of body worn video regularly as part of its work in holding the Met to account.”
In her damning report on the Met Police’s culture earlier this year, Baroness Casey said body worn video could be an important ongoing method by which the force can be held to account.