Stop and Search: can we continue to justify the use of this police power?
The killing of George Floyd on 25 May 2020 by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, who knelt on Mr. Floyd’s neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, has been rightly met with widespread anger and condemnation. People have taken to the streets for rallies in support of the Black Lives Matter (‘BLM’) movement in the USA, the UK and around the world. Demonstrating exactly why people of Black heritage are entirely justified in feeling unsafe in the UK today, is the fact that Parliament’s first response to the BLM protests was to draft a bill that protects its statues, not its citizens.
I am a former police officer, having served in a Safer Neighbourhoods Team in the Met Police for just over two years. I want to speak up about my views on the racial bias and discrimination in the police and the lack of diversity amongst police officers, and I include my former self in that.
The narrative of race relations has shifted. It is no longer enough simply not to be racist. Preaching diversity and inclusion means I have a responsibility to become actively anti-racist, to engage with issues of inequality and take action to redress the balance. Right now, it means I must not be silent if I am to stand in solidarity with friends, colleagues, and communities.
In my experience, the racial bias and discrimination that persist within policing harms Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (‘BAME’) communities and makes the police less effective. One contributing factor to this status quo is the lack of diversity amongst police officers. This is not a new problem, but the cost of our failure to address it is being counted in lives.
Plainly, racial bias and discrimination exist in the police – there is an over-policing of BAME communities, especially Black communities, and BAME communities are under-represented in the police workforce.
According to the most recent government data, between April 2018 and March 2019, Black people in England were stopped-and-searched at a rate four times higher than White people. Black people are also more likely to be subjected to use of force by police, such as being restrained or tasered. Across the UK, Black men have tasers drawn on them at a rate eight times higher than White men. Black people do not commit more crime than White people. Black people are not more violent than White people. Black people are pursued more than White people by the police, so the fraction of offending and violent behaviour that the police detect is committed disproportionately by Black people.
After the MacPherson report (an enquiry into the Met Police’s handling of the investigation into the murder of Stephen Lawrence) was published in 1999, the then-Labour government set targets for every police force in the UK to have the same proportion of BAME officers in their ranks as the communities they served. They were given a decade, and missed the target. Twenty-one years later, we are still nowhere near.
Now consider that in 1999, BAME communities made up only 7% of the UK population. At the last census (2011), they made up 14% of the population. In March 2019, 6.9% of the UK’s police force and 4% of senior officers identified as being of BAME heritage. Not a single chief constable in the UK is of BAME heritage. To achieve the government’s target set in 1999, the rate at which BAME officers are joining the police needs to accelerate past the rate at which BAME communities are growing, in order for the gap between the two to close.
In 2018, as part of its ‘Bias in Britain’ series, The Guardian commissioned Dr Krisztian Posch at the London School of Economics to predict when ethnicity demographics in policing would mirror those in society. His answer - the year 2077. In 2019, Met Commissioner Cressida Dick said she believed the Met would be disproportionately White for another one hundred years at the current rate of progress.
Serving BAME officers face a challenging working environment. The police watchdog, HM Inspectorate of Constabulary, reported in 2019 that a culture of favouritism means police forces have failed to recruit talented people into top jobs and have over-promoted senior officers. Two of the most senior Black officers to have ever served in British policing – Patricia Gallan and Victor Olisa – announced in June 2020 that they had experienced overt and subtle racism from colleagues throughout their service, which blighted their career progression. In December 2017, Steve White (yes, really) stepped down as the chair of the Police Federation and went on record saying that career progression for BAME officers was being repeatedly blocked by members of the Freemasons. As a result of both internal and external bias and discrimination, the police remain ‘pale, male and stale’, to use a phrase well-known amongst officers.
The evidence is beyond reasonable doubt. BAME communities are under-represented within the police and over-represented in their frequency of interactions with the police.
As a firm, we have had many discussions about Black Lives Matter and how we can make a difference to the movement. We wanted to do more than just put out a statement of support, we wanted to take substantive action to address the inequalities faced by Black people and other ethnic minorities. Over the coming weeks, we will be publishing a series of blogs from our varying practice areas highlighting what we are doing, how you can make a difference and shining a light on the issues.
Our Diversity and Inclusion group is working hard with Human Resources and the Management Team to effect change through methods such as training and reviewing recruitment practices. We have implemented a lot of change but we recognise we have more to do and we are always looking to make improvements as a firm. We all have respective roles to play in advocating for issues of inequality and we hope our blogs give you some inspiration as to how you can make a change.
Tom Surr is the Head Paralegal in the Criminal Litigation Department of Kingsley Napley. He is a former police officer, having served in the Met Police for just over two years as the Dedicated Ward Officer for the ward of Kilburn in North-West London.
He left the police to pursue a career in law, working briefly in the Crown Prosecution Service’s Extradition Unit as a paralegal before joining Kingsley Napley. He is passionate about police reform and improving society’s understanding of policing and police officers.
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