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Credibility of the police under scrutiny as fears mount of unchallenged racism

Updated Monday 23rd June 2014

Only one per cent of racist complaints against the police are upheld, writes Dick Skellington

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Cartoon Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: Gary Edwards Since the landmark Macpherson Report into the murder of Stephen Lawrence, home secretaries, chief constables, and police commissioners have lined up over the past two decades to state categorically that the public should have no fears of institutional racism, or direct racism, within the police forces across the country. We are constantly reminded of their determination to stamp out racism. The talk the talk but did they walk the walk?
 
Now a very disturbing report by Channel 4 Dispatches programme, following findings released under the Freedom of Information Act, has confirmed, without a shadow of a doubt, that this strident rhetoric has not extended into root and branch practice. New research shows that over the past eight years only one per cent of public complaints of racism against police officers across England and Wales have been upheld. That is right: only one per cent!
 
The report revealed that since 2005, the public lodged 7,963 allegations of racism against police officers in all police forces in England and Wales. Of these only 77 complaints were upheld following police investigations. And from these 77 confirmed instances of racism, only three police officers have been subsequently dismissed as a result.  The report was particularly damning on the Metropolitan Police where only 0.4 per cent of public complaints of racism were upheld (a mere 20 out of 4,730 complaints).
 
The news comes within weeks of Home Office reported that 'race' crimes are going unrecorded by the police. The news will further damage the credibility of the police in a year of turmoil.
 
Following the new revelations, Dame Anne Owers, the chair of the police watchdog the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC), said the police appeared not to be seriously investigating racist allegations. She reported that there were many examples of police officers continuing in employment despite a series of serious racist allegations against them.
 
The figures showed that 16 officers attracted five or more allegations of racist conduct from the public, while 43 officers received four allegations. None of these complaints have been upheld.
 
It is hard not to dispute Owers conclusion: 'What we’ve found when we’ve dug into the way that forces handle complaints of race discrimination and indeed discrimination in general is that they don’t do it well and the evidence seems to be that those complaints are less likely to be upheld than other kinds of complaints.'
 
While the report shows the value of the Freedom of Information Act, it is interesting to speculate, given the findings, the reasons why this data has not been publicly reported by the Home Office. It is hard not to think that institutional racism is still a core component of our criminal justice system, despite the best endeavours of Macpherson, and that news like this has ben deliberately concealed from the public gaze.
 
The findings have been met with the usual platitudes from the police. The Met responded: 'all staff are aware that racism will not be tolerated'.
 
A spokesman explained that if an officer 'fails short ... they ought to be dismissed.'  With only three officers dismissed across England and Wales over eight long years these words sound very hollow indeed. Racism in the police must be tackled with forthright responses, not platitudes of intent.

This blog post is part of Society Matters. The blog seeks to inform, stimulate and challenge our understanding of this changing world and of our humbling role within it. Find out more about the blog and the team.
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