Over twelve years ago the Chief Constable of Greater Manchester Police Sir David Wilmott in an unprecedented move during the Lawrence Inquiry, acknowledged that his Force was institutionally racist. This statement caused a chain reaction among his senior colleagues across the country and he set an objective that Policing should be a ‘centre of excellence’ in anti-racism practice. The Home Office took the lead with Jack Straw setting the tone for new engagement at the centre of Government and set us on the long road to restoring trust and confidence.
It is now abundantly clear that we are a very long way away from a centre of excellence and it appears sliding in the wrong direction.
How did we arrive at this state of affairs and who or what is responsible?
Make no mistake, the current racism scandal in the Metropolitan Police represents a major set-back in terms of addressing the troubling issue of trust and confidence particularly amongLondon’s black population. This issue extends way beyondLondon, after-all, this is the nation’sCapitalCity
For the decent and diligent officers who come to work every day to serve and protect the public without regard to race or other such factors, the current mess is in truth a failure of Political and Police Leadership over a period of time extending back to when Home Secretary Charles Clarke prematurely disbanded the Stephen Lawrence Working Group which kept a focus on race and Policing. The Government’s own statistics in that period still showed a disturbing disproportionality in terms of the treatment of black people across the Criminal Justice Spectrum.
Despite our protestations and those of community activist, anti-racism gradually slid onto the back burner. The current administration at the Home Office put the final nail in the coffin of the Lawrence Inquiry by literally taking race issues off the agenda when Ministerial forums on race issues in the police were abruptly brought to an end. Ultimately the doors were closed to diversity Staff Associations in the very early days of the coalition government under its localism ideology.
This move gave the green light to the Association Of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) when their Equality Diversity and Human rights Chief took the disgraceful decision to exclude NBPA and other diversity Staff Associations from their forum under the philosophy mainstreaming anti-racism.
The well intentioned notion of ‘mainstreaming’ in this instance has effectively taken race off the policing agenda and what we are now discovering is that hard and valuable lessons from the landmark Lawrence Inquiry report are still proving difficult for leadership within the political arena along with police leaders and other Criminal Justice Agents to learn.
The basic fact is that those who we look to for leadership were fast asleep at the wheel. As they awaken over the coming weeks and months, current statistics on race and the Criminal Justice System in the context of the current racism allegations ought to make for sobering reading and hopefully usher in a new era of anti-racism from the top down in policing.
The way forward must now be, first of all ensuring that all allegations are properly investigated and those found guilty appropriately punished. Keeping in mind the recommendation by MacPherson of a presumption of dismissal where officers are found guilty of racism.
There is a need to reopen the doors and engage community anti-racist activist at local and national level who were instrumental in driving initial progress following the publication of the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry report.
Our political and police leaders need to be held accountable for their stewardship on police race relations. The Home Affairs Select Committee is well placed to establish a specific inquiry to delve into the nature and extent of racism in the Police Service with swift and appropriate remedy.
6 April 2012