LONDON — The head of the London Metropolitan Police said on Wednesday that the force’s handcuffing practices would be reviewed, after officers on Saturday pulled a top British sprinter and her partner from their car and handcuffed them in front of their 3-month-old son.
The athlete, Bianca Williams, 26, a European and Commonwealth games gold medalist, and her partner, Ricardo dos Santos, 25, a Portuguese track star, were driving home from training on Saturday afternoon in Maida Vale, a well-off neighborhood in West London, when they were stopped by the police. They were handcuffed for 45 minutes on the side of the road while the police searched the vehicle.
The London Metropolitan Police said in a statement that the vehicle was stopped because it was “being driven in a manner that raised suspicion,” but Ms. Williams accused the officers of racial profiling. She said that she and Mr. dos Santos were pulled over only because they were Black and driving an expensive Mercedes in a wealthy section of the city.
The police have apologized to Ms. Williams and Mr. dos Santos for causing distress but have denied wrongdoing, despite criticism that the encounter was the latest example of “stop and search” tactics disproportionately targeting Black people in Britain.
Metropolitan Police Commissioner Cressida Dick on Wednesday acknowledged that the encounter “raised lots of concerns for people.”
Ms. Dick told lawmakers that although there had been no apparent misconduct by the police, two of her officers had visited Ms. Williams on Tuesday to apologize.
“I think all of us watching could empathize with somebody who is stopped in a vehicle, who has a young child in the back, who does not probably know what exactly is going on, and is subsequently found, together with her partner, not to be carrying anything illicit,” Ms. Dick said at a hearing of the Home Affairs Committee, in which she addressed questions about policing in the midst of a pandemic and street protests.
Ms. Dick said her forces had been “through a turbulent few weeks,” as officers have been attacked by far-right protesters in June and injured when they tried to disperse crowds attending illegal outdoor gatherings.
She told lawmakers that the incident would be reviewed by the Independent Office for Police Conduct, a public body in charge of complaints made against police forces.
“My senior officer has said, ‘I’m sorry’ to Ms. Williams for the distress it caused her, and I say that too,” Ms. Dick said, vowing to review handcuffing procedures. “I don’t want, and I don’t believe I do, run a police service in which handcuffing is routine.”
While the use of “stop and search” tactics has dropped sharply from a peak in 2009, there has been a spike in their use during the coronavirus lockdown. It has coincided with the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement globally, which has focused public attention on police tactics following the death of George Floyd while in police custody in the United States.
Black people in England and Wales are nearly 10 times as likely to be stopped and searched than white people are, according to official statistics, which do not include vehicle searches.
Many in Britain viewed the encounter involving officers and the star athletes on Saturday as part of a broader pattern.
In videos showing parts of the incident, a female police officer can be seen asking a woman sitting in the back of a car to step outside, while the woman pleads that she does not want to be separated from her baby.
Ms. Williams later told the BBC that she had felt hurt and scared, and that she had never faced such an encounter, but that her partner, Mr. dos Santos, was used to them. “I would say it’s my normal,” Mr. dos Santos said. “It’s horrible to say.”