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'Systematic failures' in racial disparity by forces, says report

A damning report by senior MPs has found "systematic failure" by forces and government to tackle racial disparity.

Forces have pledged to make improvements in diversity an operational priority in a bid to regain community support.

The commitment came in response to a challenging report from the Home Affairs Select Committee which highlighted significant failings despite commitments to implement the MacPerson inquiry's recommendations.

The MPs are calling for urgent action to tackle “low levels of BME recruitment and retention, unjustified racial disparities in the use of stop and search and other police powers, and a worrying decline of confidence in the police among some BME communities”. 

The committee’s report into progress against the inquiry findings found while progress has been made there are “persistent, deep rooted and unjustified racial disparities in key areas” in policing.

And neither forces nor governments have taken race equality seriously enough in what it calls a “systematic failure”. 

They said without urgent action it could take another two decades for forces to reflect the communities they serve if they carry on at the rate that they’re going – four decades after the MacPherson report.

“This is completely inexcusable,” the report reads.

The Chair of the Home Affairs Select Committee, Yvette Cooper MP, said: “The MacPherson report into the racist murder of Stephen Lawrence and the terrible denial of justice to his family had a huge impact on policing and tackling racism when it was first published. But we have found that in too many areas progress has stalled and for too long there has been a lack of focus and accountability on race equality in policing.

“There are still persistent, deep rooted problems and unjustified racial disparities in key areas where Sir William Macpherson made recommendations over twenty years ago. That is unacceptable and must change.  

“Without clear action to tackle race inequality we fear that, in ten years’ time, future Committees will be hearing the very same arguments that have been rehearsed already for over twenty years.

“That cannot be allowed to happen. If the police and government fail to address these problems urgently, community confidence in the police and the long-standing Peel principles around fairness in policing will be permanently undermined.” 

It makes a number of recommendations, one being new minimum targets set immediately for current recruitment so that all forces reflect the ethnic diversity of their local populations and a national target of at least 14 per cent met by 2030.

By 2020 BME officers represented 7 per cent of the police service, far below the 14 per cent of the population in England and Wales who identify as BME, with only 4 per cent of officers at or above the rank of chief inspector are from BME backgrounds.

The Committee identified a “lack of leadership in driving BME recruitment and promotion in the police service for far too long”. It hailed recent progress by Greater Manchester and Nottinghamshire, saying they've shown it is possible to rapidly to increase the proportion of new BME recruits into line with the local population.

The report called for the Home Secretary to use her statutory powers to direct action if targets are not being met.

It did note some improvements, such as the commitment of senior officers to promoting diversity and equality, good examples of local community policing and policing of racist and hate crimes, 

But it also recommended new training for policing hate crime online, saying forces are being left behind by the rise of online racist crimes

The report pointed out the use of stop and search is more disproportionate now than it was 20 years ago, with “no adequate explanation or justification for the nature and scale of racial disparities”. The Committee recommends new training, more community oversight and more use of body worn video.

It also claims, based on ONS survey data, the confidence gap has widened between white and BAME communities.

The Committee recommends a comprehensive review and overhaul of police training on racism, diversity and equality so that training in the future explicitly focuses on anti-racism. 

It states current arrangements for ensuring progress on race equality in policing are not working and says a new statutory Race Equality Commissioner for Policing is needed alongside a new Race Equality Steering Group to be chaired by the Home Secretary. 

Jo Noakes, Director at the College of Policing, said: “Today’s report is a challenging and comprehensive summary of the evidence that requires effective action. While we know policing has undergone significant changes and improvements in the last 22 years, there is still more to be done including continuing to build confidence in the police, especially among Black and minority ethnic communities.

“Every day, officers and staff across the country are tirelessly working to strengthen the relationship between the police and the public and it is only by working with the communities we serve that we can continue to build trust and help keep people safe. 

“The report’s urgency is clear and we will continue working with our colleagues at the National Police Chiefs’ Council to ensure the service is demonstrably anti-racist and continues tackling discrimination and racial inequalities where they exist.”

Forces have made clear before the report that progress had stalled, in part due to the funding custs and job losses during the austerity era. Resources have not been enough to tackle internal issues, log-standing community problems as well as a media and political culture that is critical of police spending on equality staff.

Chiefs signalled the years of stagnation were now harming legitimacy and they were determined to act.

National Police Chiefs' Council Chair Martin Hewitt said: “Policing has changed but as this report makes clear, not far or fast enough to secure the confidence of all communities and especially Black people. Putting that right is an operational imperative because the legitimacy and effectiveness of UK policing is built on relationships between the police and the public.             

“We share this report’s ambition and it will inform our developing Inclusion and Race Plan of Action, which already reflects some of the same proposals to improve practice and secure trust."

He set out next steps: “To help us deliver on our commitment to tangible change, we will soon be announcing the appointment of an Independent Oversight and Scrutiny Chair , who, along with a robust board, will shape the plan of action and check and challenge its delivery by policing."  

Policing Minister Kit Malthouse said: “The Macpherson Report left an indelible mark on policing following the terrible murder of Stephen Lawrence.


“Good progress has been made since its publication. Our police are more diverse than ever before, forces have worked hard to improve community engagement and we have seen major improvements in the way the police deal with racist crimes.


“But we know there is much more to do – that is why attracting more officers from a wide range of ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds is a core ambition of our drive to recruit an extra 20,000 officers. Stop and search along with other preventative activity set out in the Beating Crime Plan is also vital to ensuring we create safer streets and neighbourhoods”.

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