Britain’s most senior police chiefs are considering making a public admission that their forces are institutionally racist, it has emerged.
According to The Guardian, high-level discussions began on Thursday, as a special police adviser on race claimed a declaration is needed if promises of radical reform are to be taken seriously by black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) communities.
More discussions will reportedly be held in January, with a decision from police leaders expected in February.
UK policing has been embroiled in a race crisis, with a series of controversies over stop and search and the excessive use of force.
Racism in policing
The National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) appointed barrister Abimbola Johnson to chair an independent board to scrutinise a promised raft of reforms.
A new plan to make policing anti-racist has been promised, with Johnson saying an admission of institutional racism is necessary.
“The plan needs to accept institutional racism, if it is to be anti-racist,” she said. “If the idea is to win the trust of black communities, policing needs to start by acknowledging both the historical and current manifestations of racism in policing.”
The Macpherson report of 1999, on the failings that let the racist killers of Stephen Lawrence escape justice, first labelled policing as institutionally racist.
Sir William Macpherson defined institutional racism as: “The collective failure of an organisation to provide an appropriate and professional service to people because of their colour, culture or ethnic origin. It can be seen or detected in processes, attitudes and behaviour which amount to discrimination through unwitting prejudice, ignorance, thoughtlessness and racist stereotyping which disadvantage minority ethnic people.”
Officers are still disproportionally white, with a smaller proportion of ethnic minority officers in policing than the general population.
Last year Cressida Dick, the Metropolitan police commissioner, denied policing was institutionally racist, telling MPs it was “not a label I find helpful”.
She said: “I don’t think we’re collectively failing. I don’t think [racism] is a massive systemic problem, I don’t think it’s institutionalised, and more to the point I think we have come such a very, very, very long way.”
‘Systemic, structural racism’
But, Johnson said: “Reluctance to admit institutional racism comes from emphasising the comfort of the wrong people over the experience of black people. For this programme to work, it needs the police to have conversations that are uncomfortable for them.”
NPCC vice-chair Sir Dave Thompson, the chief constable of the West Midlands force, said they would consider whether to accept that policing in the UK is institutionally racist.
“We will look at how we use the language of discrimination and racism with chief constables so that we acknowledge the scale of the challenge that we see to communities, while being able to account for the actions we intend to take,” he said.
“Policing is not free of bias, discrimination and racism. We accept that this is not simply a case of individuals but also about the policies and practices of policing. I am very clear there will be institutional racism issues in policing. There will also be systemic racism, structural racism and also racial disparities that are not due to racism in policing because we police an unequal society.
“There is a concern, set out in the [government’s] commission on race disparity report that the term institutional racism can be too casually used as an explanatory term for all disparity or discrimination. This is why the application of this term requires careful thought.”