The UK has a 'stop and frisk' problem, too

The World
An armed police officer patrols ahead of the arrival of members of Britain's royal family to a service of thanksgiving for Queen Elizabeth's 90th birthday at St Paul's cathedral in London, Britain, June 10, 2016.

An armed police officer patrols ahead of the arrival of members of Britain's royal family to a service of thanksgiving for Queen Elizabeth's 90th birthday at St Paul's cathedral in London, Britain, June 10, 2016.

Reuters/Peter Nicholls

Over the past week, it feels to many in the US like the already uncomfortable relationship between law enforcement and minorities is unraveling. But fatal shootings and overt violence aren’t the only sources of conflict. "Stop and frisk" searches, for example — which disproportionately affect minorities — have also been a heated point of contention between law enforcement and minority communities.

The UK has a similar problem. Former London police officer Nick Glynn says he has experienced police racism first-hand. Glynn, who is black, has been stopped dozens of times for what the UK calls "stop and search."

The fact that he was a police officer himself had varying effects on the officers who stopped him.  

“On some occasions it’s changed the encounter for the better and they have been much more friendly … the encounters ended pretty quickly,” Glynn said, “but on other occasions for some reason it has made it worse.”

A police officer checks an man's mobile phone after stopping and searching him on a back street in the Brixton neighbourhood of London.

A police officer checks an man's mobile phone after stopping and searching him on a back street in the Brixton neighbourhood of London.

Credit:

Reuters/Andrew Winning

Glynn has no doubt that when people are stopped on the streets of London racial profiling is a key factor. In one of Glynn’s first encounters with the police in the late 1980s, Glynn figured he was stopped because he was driving a new car. But the trend has continued, and he still gets stopped frequently.

“More recently I’ve been stopped a number of times where my genuine belief was the only reason I’ve been stopped is because it’s a black guy driving a car,” Glynn said.

“I don’t think it’s quite on the scale that it is in the US [in the UK] because we have different histories and we have different population makeup, but it’s still a big issue here.”

There are tools available to bring more accountability to policing, however. Glynn notes data on police "stop and search" practices as one of them.

“The availability of data means that both the police internally can have effective scrutiny but also the public can have access to that data … which means they can hold the police to account because policing is done for and with the public.”   

Glynn can relate to what’s going on in the United States, and he believes progress can be made to improve the relationships police officers have with minorities.

“It feels like things are spiraling, and there’s a real need for calm collected reflection, honesty, for transparency; for absolutely a focus on looking for solutions.”