Met Police to stop recording ethnicity of drivers stopped by its officers

uk police undertaking traffic stops in which they fingerprint motorist using a mobile scanner
Analysis found black people were 56% more likely to be stopped than white people

Reports Mirren Gidda, investigative journalist at Liberty Investigates, and Vikram Dodd, police and crime correspondent at the Guardian.


The Metropolitan police are to stop recording the ethnicity of drivers who are stopped by officers, just as other police forces start doing it, Liberty Investigates and the Guardian have learned.

Police in England and Wales had not previously recorded the race of those stopped on the roads amid claims that black drivers were picked on by officers.

In 2021, the Met was the first force to record a driver’s ethnicity as part of a pilot project. It agreed to do so under pressure from the mayor of London as it plunged into crisis.

Details from that Met pilot scheme show some disproportionality, meaning that Black and Asian drivers were stopped at a higher rate than white British drivers, according to documents obtained by Liberty Investigates.

Compared with their share of the population, Black people were 56 percent more likely to be stopped than white British people, analysis of the traffic pilot shows.

The disproportionality was lower for road stops compared with when officers stop and search people in the street, with Black people being seven times more likely than white people to be targeted when they are on foot.

Some officers, according to the Met documents, felt recording the race of drivers took too much time – on average an additional two minutes. Officers also reported that they often did not know the ethnicity of the driver when they decided to exercise their powers. Now, Britain’s biggest force will drop the scheme aimed at identifying potential racial bias.

The Met pilot followed a spate of cases in 2020 when people were stopped and found to be innocent. This included athlete Bianca Williams, and her partner, Ricardo dos Santos, who were handcuffed while their baby was in the car. Nothing unlawful was found by officers, some of whom now face a disciplinary hearing.

Dos Santos told the Guardian the Met should keep recording the data to avoid damaging public trust, adding: “Confidence is already running low; rather than taking a step forward, they are taking a step backwards. It makes people think there is something to hide, because you would not want to stop doing that if there was not something to hide.”

Several other forces across the country are about to start recording the ethnicity of drivers, and police chiefs hope all forces will do so too.

The National Police Chiefs’ Council says it wants to close the race gap in policing, which means an almost 20% deficit in the trust and confidence black communities have in police compared with the average.

"Establishing racial disproportionality is not a matter of how far officers can be bothered"

Habib Kadiri, StopWatch

Until now, police have had to record the ethnicity of people they stop on foot in the street, which has exposed the national disproportionality.

A small pilot in London in 2020 suggested black people were six times more likely to be stopped while driving than white people.

The latest pilot, much bigger than the previous, lasted six months from January 2021 to July 2021 with data for 7,556 stops collected.

Dr Krisztian Posch of University College London analysed the data for the Guardian. It showed the biggest disproportionality was for black people, who are 13.5 percent of London’s population but who made up 17.2 percent of stops during the pilot. Asians make up 19 percent of the population, but made up 21 percent of stops where people stated their ethnicity.

White British people make up 37.8 percent of the capital’s population, and made up 30.8 percent of stops, while white other – which can include white eastern Europeans- make up 18 percent of the population and 24 percent of stops during the pilot.

The Met document from June 2022 said of officers: “In most cases they could not see who was driving the vehicle until it had stopped.”

The collection of ethnic data is seen as a way of identifying potential bias and driving it out of public services. The Met figures show that 86.4 percent of those were stopped were male and 13.5 percent were female.

A spokesperson for the National Police Chiefs’ Council said: “We’ve been piloting the section 163 [of the Road Traffic Act] action in the Police Race Action Plan with five forces, and will be piloting it with more forces in the coming months, with the aim of gathering the evidence necessary to consider a national rollout.”

The London mayor’s spokesperson said it was working to boost trust, adding: “The findings of the pilot (June 2022), which looked at road traffic stops by the Met police, did not identify racial bias.”

Habib Kadiri of StopWatch said the organisation “finds it hard to believe that the effort to record ethnicity during vehicle stops is significantly greater than that during street stops (considering how long it takes to verify car details anyway).

“It is also insulting to the many drivers who are stopped either for no reason or for trivial road traffic offences. Establishing racial disproportionality is not a matter of how far officers can be bothered.”

The Met took more than three days to respond to questions and said: “There was no clear difference between the proportion of stops recorded by ethnicity and the population projections for London.

“The MPS is aware that other forces are exploring similar pilots, and will consider any outputs from those pilots.”

This article was also published by the Guardian.