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Senior Police Chief declares ‘Institutional Racism’ within the police force

In January of this year, The Guardian’s exclusive interview with the chair of the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC), Gavin Stephens, made headlines. Stephens is currently the most senior serving leader to declare that policing is ‘institutionally racist’ and has, therefore, called for a redesign of policies and practises throughout the country to address the discrimination that pervades every aspect of the police force.

What is Institutional Racism?

Institutional racism refers to biases that are ingrained in an organisation’s policies, rules, and practices. It is focused on the organisation, not on an individual, with Stephens adding that it “doesn’t mean that all police officers are racist”. Institutional racism can take many forms in the police force, from discrimination against employees to discrimination against members of the public. Discrimination by the police may not always be obvious and can be physical or psychological.

A close-up image of a police car's police sign and siren on the roof of a car.

A common discriminatory action is racial profiling in police stop and search. During the Covid-19 pandemic, men from black, Asian, and minority ethnic groups aged 15-34 accounted for 32% of all searches, despite making up just 2.6% of the population. The extent of racial disparity in the use of force by the Police in England and Wales was noted by police chiefs in 2022 when they laid out the first draft of their race action plan.

Shockingly, they stated: “Black people are seven times more likely to be stopped and searched than white people and five times more likely to be subjected to the use of force … 10% of our recorded searches, 27% of use-of-force incidents and 35% of Taser incidents involved someone from a Black ethnic group. The latest estimates suggest that only 3.5% of the population is Black.”

All forms of discrimination are unacceptable and unlawful due to the Equality Act 2010 and the Human Rights Act 1998. Whether or not the police force accepts it suffers from institutional racism is a debate that has been ongoing for more than 30 years.

In 1999, the Macpherson report exposed institutional racism within the police force. Despite attempts to address this issue with the Police Race Action Plan 2022, the police force has failed to eliminate discriminatory attitudes and actions. Conflicting statements have been made, and progress has fallen short.

Challenging institutional racism: perspectives and resistance within the force

During the interview, Stephens admits to the fundamental level on which discrimination is rampant through the police force: “the way our policies, procedures [and] training have been designed and implemented for many years have not had the voices of black people involved in the design, the implementation, of those practices.”

“The most helpful discussion for policing to have in the future is how we redesign the policies, the practices, the implementation, of policing to remove that discrimination.”

But actions speak louder than words, and without real proof of change, there is a fear that Stephens’s statements may be as inconsequential as the Police Race Action Plan.

Some members of the police are unwilling to accept its issue with institutional racism, such as the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Sir Mark Rowley, who refused to accept the terms “institutionally racist” and “institutionally misogynistic”.

An increase in vocalisation by the police

An encouraging aspect is, however, that Stephens was elected by fellow chief constables to represent the NPCC in October 2022. Stephens’s election suggests a growing recognition among law enforcement officials of the necessity for comprehensive reform in law enforcement practices. Policing bodies have a duty to uphold anti-discriminatory laws like the Equality Act 2010 and the Human Rights Act 1998. Institutional racism blatantly violates these legal statutes.

A picture of a person's hand holding an eraser wiping the word 'discrimination' written in white chalk off a blackboard.

While Stevens is the most senior serving leader to speak out about institutional racism and discrimination, over the past year, there have been several other individuals who have spoken out about the mistreatment of minorities. In June of last year, the Avon and Somerset Police chief constable Sarah Crew, said she believed her own force to be institutionally racist. Stephens sentiments during the interview reflect in Crew’s examination of her own force: “To make real change we need to work together, we need to be accountable and by admitting the truth we can start to make progress.”

Despite the data that “you are six times more likely to be stopped and searched in the force area if you’re from black heritage”, Crew still faced criticism from the Avon and Somerset force’s Police Federation, which said that Crew created a “false narrative”. Crew’s statements however, did receive support from senior members, including from James Oluoch-Olunya, chair of Avon and Somerset Police’s Race Ethnicity and Cultural Heritage (Reach) group and chief executive Dr Wanda Wyporska of Black Equity Organisation. Following on from Crew, the declaration from the chair of the NPCC solidifies the acknowledgement of institutional racism within the force, making it an inescapable truth.

The impact of Stephens’ statement on legal claims

When asked whether his personal view was that “the police are institutionally racist”, Stephens replied “yes”, recognising there have been serious failings within the police force. Following Stephens’ acknowledgement, individuals now possess a strengthened foundation to pursue claims against the police, leveraging his statement as compelling evidence of systemic issues. This not only adds weight to individual complaints, but also highlights the urgent need for reform within law enforcement to address the pervasive injustices.

How can I take action against the police?

Nobody should endure police misconduct; it is inexcusable and a violation of your civil rights. Regardless of the nature of police misconduct, you may be entitled to compensation. A complaint of police misconduct must be made directly to the police force involved within 12 months of the incident. The complaint alone will not result in compensation, but it may result in disciplinary action against the police officers involved and a formal apology, with steps detailing how they will prevent this from happening in the future. Making a complaint is important as it may hopefully prevent others from going through the same experience as you.

HNK Solicitors can help with civil claims against the police

If you believe you have been the victim of police discrimination or misconduct, get in touch with our team of expert civil actions against the police solicitors, and we can help you make a successful claim.

We operate on a no-win, no-fee basis, meaning there are no upfront costs until you receive your compensation. We offer a free consultation with no obligation to start a claim, allowing us to assess the viability of your claim for potential compensation.

To begin your claim, get in touch with us via our online contact form, email us at enquiries@hnksolicitors.com or give us a call on 0151 668 0809.

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