Creating a fairer Britain
12 January 2009
A decade after the Macpherson Inquiry into the death of Stephen Lawrence, the police service across England and Wales has made significant progress in dealing with race equality issues, according to a report issued today by the Equality and Human Rights Commission.
However, the report finds that the police must do more to tackle problems with stop and search and information held on the DNA database, as well as address the poor retention of new ethnic minority officers. It also reveals evidence of a ‘canteen culture’ among some specialist units which are still seen as a ‘closed shop’ to some ethnic minority recruits.
The Commission’s report, 'Police and Racism: What has been achieved 10 years after the Stephen Lawrence inquiry report?', finds that progress made in the past ten years on recruitment, training and employment of ethnic minority staff is encouraging, with many individual forces providing examples of good work in this area.
The report also notes significant progress made by the police in the areas of reporting and investigation of race crimes, illustrated by the way officers dealt with the murder of Anthony Walker in 2005 compared with their investigation into Stephen Lawrence’s killing.
However, the report highlights a series of concerns – chiefly:
'Police and Racism' includes extracts from a report, Duty Calls, by HM Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC), which was completed in 2006 but never fully released. The HMIC report highlights the difficulty experienced by ethnic minority officers wanting to join specialist squads, thought to include firearms, robbery and anti-terrorist units, which is put down to a feeling that they are ‘closed shops’, with a particular canteen culture which makes some ethnic minority staff feel that their ‘face would not fit’.
John Wadham, Group Director, Legal, at the Equality and Human Rights Commission, said:
'When Stephen Lawrence was murdered by a racist gang of young white men the police behaved as if he was the criminal rather than the victim.
'Ten years on from the inquiry into the handling of his death we welcome the significant improvements the police have made in the way they deal with race. There are many good examples from forces across England and Wales of initiatives which we would like to see implemented at a national level. As the evidence shows, a police force which reflects and has the confidence of the public it serves is more successful at fighting crime.
'However there are still worrying areas which the police need to address – such as changing the ‘canteen culture’ and properly monitoring stop and search and the DNA database – if they are to continue to make improvements.’
Following a formal investigation by the Commission for Racial Equality in September 2005 the Home Office, ACPO and the APA (Association of Police Authorities) produced a Race Equality Programme with detailed objectives drawn from the CRE’s recommendations. While many positive and successful initiatives have stemmed from this Programme, the Commission is concerned at the initial failure of the National Policing Improvement Agency (NPIA) to properly demonstrate how it is monitoring the police’s performance on race issues since it took over responsibility for this area in 2007.
The report looks at the police’s performance in four key areas:
There is growing evidence that significant changes made by police forces to the way they recruit, train and promote ethnic minority staff have achieved positive results. Ethnic minority officers do, however, have a higher resignation rate than white officers, particularly in the first six months of service when twice as many ethnic minority recruits leave.
The report also highlights evidence about the difficulty experienced by ethnic minority officers wanting to join specialist squads, thought to include firearms, robbery and anti-terrorist units. They appear to be ‘closed shops’ to many ethnic minority officers who believe them to be dominated by white, middle aged men, old fashioned work practices and a “canteen” culture of playing hard, working hard and drinking.
The Commission is strongly recommending that the NPIA properly demonstrates how it is monitoring performance and ensuring that positive progress for the police continues.
The Commission is also concerned at the police’s lack of progress in reducing the disproportionate number of black and Asian people stopped and searched compared to white people. A decade on from Macpherson, black people are still seven times more like likely to be stopped and searched than white people in England and Wales, with Asians twice as likely – figures which are a major impediment to good race relations. The Commission believes that these differences cannot be justified by detections, since only around one in six people in all racial groups are then arrested.
The stop and search figures are also not consistent across England and Wales. Forces with very similar populations and geographic make up can have substantially different levels of stops and searches for white, Asian and black people. Six forces in the north of England report far lower differences between the numbers of black and white people stopped and searched than forces in the south of England and there are significant differences between forces in similar rural areas.
The report singles out Staffordshire Police as an example of a force using “best practice”. In 2005/6 in Stoke on Trent, the force started using the nationally approved Practice Oriented Package in carrying out stop and search. This led to a drop in the ratio of black people to white people stopped and searched from four-and-a-half to one to one-and-a-half to one.
The Commission is concerned that over the last ten years, there has been a failure to address issues around the high proportion of black men recorded on the database, which risks creating an impression that a single race group is more predisposed to criminality. The Commission estimates that 30 per cent of all black men’s DNA is on the database compared to ten per cent of white men.
Very little research has been carried out into why so many black men’s DNA has been taken and is being held. The report recommends that the Home Office and the police take a more proactive approach to this issue such as carrying out full ethnic monitoring of the database and publishing the results.
The national DNA database will now need to be substantially reviewed since the landmark ruling by the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg in December 2008 and the Commission is calling on the Government to implement changes necessary to comply with the judgment as soon as possible.
Official figures suggest that the number of racist incidents have dropped significantly in the past decade and the public is more confident in reporting race crime to an increased number of organisations. The Commission is recommending that an existing service in parts of the country be expanded into a nationwide 24-hour helpline to report racist incidents be introduced as experience shows that many victims are unable or unwilling to go to the police, and fail to report incidents if they can’t speak to someone immediately.
For more information contact the Equality and Human Rights Commission Media Office on 02031170255, out of hours 07767272818.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission is a statutory body established under the Equality Act 2006, which took over the responsibilities of Commission for Racial Equality, Disability Rights Commission and Equal Opportunities Commission.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission is the independent advocate for equality and human rights in Britain. It aims to reduce inequality, eliminate discrimination, strengthen good relations between people, and promote and protect human rights.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission enforces equality legislation on age, disability, gender, race, religion or belief, sexual orientation or transgender status, and encourage compliance with the Human Rights Act. It also gives advice and guidance to businesses, the voluntary and public sectors, and to individuals.