Between 2015 and 2020, nearly 8,000 complaints were made against police officers in the UK for racist conduct. Only 2.3% resulted in any formal action.
This is just one of the staggering statistics on racism within the police, yet it’s unlikely to surprise you. After all, it has been nearly 25 years since Lord Macpherson labelled the Metropolitan Police “institutionally racist” in his report on the case of Stephen Lawrence, a Black teenager who was murdered in a racially motivated attack in Eltham.
After years of slow progress – exacerbated by budget cuts – campaigners called for an external body to handle accusations, to prevent police officers “marking their own homework” when dealing with these cases.
In the last month we have seen a new plan to tackle racism within the force, rolled out by the National Police Chiefs Council and the College of Policing. It came in response to the anti-racism rallies across Britain after the tragic murder of George Floyd in the US, two years ago this month – an anniversary that prompted Joe Biden to sign an executive order which amongst other things will restrict certain police practices that have led to fatal outcomes on innocent people.
In England and Wales, the new plan involves the roll-out of anti-racism training and education on the history of treatment of Black people from the police – as well as a push to recruit more Black officers into the force.
These are positive steps. But what impact can we expect from pro-diversity recruitment, retention and development programmes when they are carried out within a discriminatory culture?
As Abimbola Johnson, a barrister who is chair of the board overseeing the plan, has commented, “it is not the duty of Black people themselves to solve racism.” The culture needs to change. But what would solve the institutionally racist culture we see in our police force?
In the private sector, anti-racism and unconscious bias training has been rolled out for years, but to little success. The lesson from their experience is that to make any progress the police need to move wholeheartedly toward an inclusive culture, led from the top but embraced by all, where everyone is included, and no one is left out.
Only then, when officers, sergeants, constables and support staff alike can feel safe, respected and empowered to do what is right within their working environment, will we feel the impact as members of the public.
It’s not a quick fix and it won’t be easy, but if those running the force recognised how deeply their culture needs to change, they will have taken the most important step in the right direction.