A Muslim councillor from Bristol was arrested after he went to his local police station to report a crime because officers were searching for a suspect who “looked like” him, The Guardian reports.
Labour councillor Afzal Shah has questioned whether white colleagues on the police and crime panel he sits on would have been detained in the same situation and stated that there was “institutional bias” in the force.
Avon & Somerset police have apologised for the incident, but said officers were acting in good faith when they arrested Cllr Shah.
Cllr Shah told The Guardian: “When I was being de-arrested, I said, ‘I want to know why I was arrested.’ I told them this is illogical. I’m finding this deeply distressing and troubling. The police said: ‘We thought you were someone else.’
“I’m a councillor, being a member of the police and crime panel. Imagine one of my colleagues in Taunton, Weston-super-Mare or Yeovil walking into a police station to report a very serious offence. Other things being equal, would they have been arrested in similar circumstances? I don’t think so. I honestly don’t believe they would have been arrested. There’s bias there. As far as I’m concerned, there’s bias in the police logic as to why I was arrested.
“I’m not satisfied. There are lot of good police officers. We are fortunate to have a good chief constable. But is there institutional bias within the police force? Absolutely.”
Cllr Shah went to the Trinity Road police station in Bristol to report a crime on behalf of someone else.
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Instead of taking his statement, police officers told him they believed he was a person suspected of making threats of violence and read him his rights whilst arresting him.
He explained that he was a local councillor and had been in a council meeting when the alleged crime he was being arrested for took place, which was ignored he says.
There are no custody cells at Trinity Road, but Cllr Shah was placed in the back of a police car in the public car park outside the police station.
Police then realised they had the wrong person and de-arrested him.
Cllr Shah said: “I was told it was a misunderstanding, and that the person who they were looking for looked like me. They said: ‘We had a description similar to yourself.’ During my time as a local Labour councillor – including as a member of the region’s police and crime panel – I have worked hard to build bridges between communities in Easton and our local constabulary.”
In a statement given to The Guardian, Avon & Somerset police said: “Police have apologised for the inconvenience and distress caused when he was arrested and detained in a police car after being wrongly identified by a victim as one of the perpetrators of a crime.”
Supt Andy Bennett said: “Officers acted in good faith in arresting Cllr Shah at Trinity Road police station after another man who was in the station reporting an offence visually identified him as one of the people involved. This identification was later found to be incorrect and Cllr Shah was released without having been taken to a custody unit.
“We are extremely grateful for Cllr Shah’s contribution to community policing, both as a councillor and as a member of the police and crime panel. We have apologised to him for the distress and embarrassment this incident has clearly caused him and welcome this opportunity to clarify this publicly.”