Police chief warns 'wicked' race crisis is damaging war on crime

Senior police chief warns ‘wicked’ race crisis is damaging battle against crime as he vows to change ‘generations of history’ between police and black communities and boost number of black recruits

  • NPCC chair Martin Hewitt warned ‘wicked’ race crisis is damaging war on crime
  • Trust in UK policing is 20% lower in black population compared with average
  • He vowed to change ‘generations of history’ by raising number of black recruits
  • Official figures show black people more likely to be stopped and searched 

One of Britain’s most senior police chiefs has warned that the race crisis is damaging the fight against crime as he vowed to change ‘generations of history’ between officers and black communities across the country.

Martin Hewitt, chair of the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC), said trust in policing was 20 per cent lower in the black population compared with the average, as he called for an increase in the number of black recruits in police forces.

In his first interview on race since the Black Lives Matter protests broke out globally last summer, Mr Hewitt told the Guardian that race was the fault line of British policing and ‘a wicked and challenging issue’. 

He added trust and confidence in the police was important for people to come forward and report crime and engage with officers, and could also lead to ‘young black men and women saying I’m prepared to go and become a police officer’. 

Andy George, president of the National Black Police Association, praised Mr Hewitt’s comments but warned ‘progress’ has not come quickly enough. 

Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Mr George also called British policing ‘institutionally racist’, arguing that ‘processes and systems that work within policing work to the detriment of ethnic minority communities’.

A landmark 1999 report by Sir William Macpherson into the failings that let the racist murderers of black teenager Stephen Lawrence escape justice for years found that the Metropolitan Police were ‘institutionally racist’.

Police in Britain have been heavily criticised over the years over the disproportionate use of powers, such as use of force and stop and search, by forces across the country on black and ethnic minority people.

It led to Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services (HMICFRS) warning in a damning report published last month that police risk losing the trust of the communities they serve.

Official figures show black people are nine times more likely to be stopped and searched. There were six stop and searches for every 1,000 white people, compared with 54 for every 1,000 black people.

Martin Hewitt, chair of the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC), said trust and confidence in policing was 20 per cent lower in the black population compared with the average, as he highlighted the need to boost the number of black recruits in police forces

Official figures show black people are nine times more likely to be stopped and searched, according to the latest data. There were six stop and searches for every 1,000 white people, compared with 54 for every 1,000 black people 

‘Institutional racism’: The Macpherson Report which called for policing reforms after the 1993 killing of Stephen Lawrence

Sir William Macpherson produced an historic report into the death of the teenager in which the country’s biggest police was described as ‘institutionally racist’. 

The bombshell inquiry in 1999 paved the way for sweeping reform at Scotland Yard and led to the abolition of the double jeopardy law. 

Stephen, 18, was stabbed to death while waiting for a bus in Eltham, South-East London, in 1993. 

The report which followed an inquiry into his death found that the Metropolitan Police was institutionally racist. 

A total of 70 recommendations for reform, covering both policing and criminal law, were made. These proposals included abolishing the double jeopardy rule and criminalising racist statements made in private. 

Sir William also called for reform in the Civil Service, local governments, the National Health Service, schools, and the judicial system, to address issues of institutional racism.

Following the death of George Floyd in the US, the NPCC said it would develop a plan of action to address racial inequalities in policing. 

It said an independent scrutiny and oversight board will be established with members ‘who can draw on a range of experiences to challenge and scrutinise us’.

Preempting critics, NPCC chairman Mr Hewitt added: ‘This is not about political correctness. This is not about ‘wokeism’ or whatever anyone else wants to call it. 

‘This is about legitimate policing. Legitimate policing has to be legitimate for all the communities, and that includes the black community.’

Responding to Mr Hewitt’s intervention, Mr George said he welcomed the drive to improve relations with minority communities in Britain but called to see ‘actions to follow up on the words’.

In an interview with the Today programme, the president of the National Black Police Association said: ‘The NPCC have been working on their race action plan for over nine months and I don’t think progress has kind of come just as quickly as we’d have liked. 

‘We have been working with them thankfully and we are keen to progress it… it’s definitely not about wokeism, it’s not about all the HR matters, it’s about being operationally competent and effective in the fight against crime and we need to work with communities to find out who’s causing most harm in those communities.’

He went on to call British policing ‘still institutionally racist’, explaining: ‘The definition itself has been lost over time. 

‘That’s not to say that every officer and staff member in the Metropolitan Police or other forces or institutions are racist, that’s to say that the processes and systems that work within policing work to the detriment of ethnic minority communities.’

Mr George added: ‘Recruitment and the lack of recruitment of black officers is a symptom and a byproduct of poor relationships with those communities. 

‘What we’ve been calling for for a number of years but more recently in line with the Uplift Programme and the 20,000 extra officers is to have a long-term, targeted engagement plan with the black community, and that’s necessary to increase confidence, and then, over time, black communities will start seeing police as a viable career.

‘Policing thrives on community intelligence and information coming from communities. We need that before crime happens for someone to tell us what’s going to occur. 

‘We need it for after crime as well for people to tell us what’s been happening, witnesses are a key to solving most crimes, and if we don’t have trust and confidence, people aren’t going to be willing to come forward.’

Last month the HMICFRS said it is still unable to explain a ‘disproportionate’ use of the controversial powers to search for drugs on BAME people. 

The report, published today by HMI Wendy Williams, said the use of the tactic was causing ‘far-reaching and long lasting’ damage to community relations – especially when no drugs were typically found. 

The term BAME is ‘unhelpful and redundant’ and should be scrapped, Boris Johnson’s racial disparity commission will suggest in a report.

The acronym – which stands for Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic – overshadows the fact that people from different ethnic groups have varying life experiences and should not be grouped together in one category, the commission found. 

The Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities also suggests that people of ethnic minority backgrounds generally prefer the term ‘ethnic minority’ over ‘BAME’ or ‘people of colour’ to describe themselves.

Mr Johnson announced the establishment of the commission after a series of anti-racism protests on British streets triggered by the death in the US of George Floyd while in police custody.

The 10-person group – comprised of representatives from the fields of science, education, broadcasting, economics, medicine, policing and community organising – are set to deliver a report on race disparity within various sectors.

It is lead by Tony Sewell, who previous said the absence of black fathers is the root cause of knife and gang crime. 

The term BAME is ‘unhelpful and redundant’ and should be scrapped, Boris Johnson’s racial disparity commission will suggest in a report. The Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities  is lead by Tony Sewell, who previous said the absence of black fathers is the root cause of knife and gang crime

The report will claim ‘the differences between racial groups living in Britain today are now as important as the commonalities’, a source told The Daily Telegraph.

The term BAME will be a key part of the report which was supposed to be published last year but was delayed due to the amount of evidence to go through.

Detractors will likely argue that a clear term such as BAME will help to systematically follow changes in firms’ diversity figures.

Losing the clear-cut terminology could complicate diversity efforts made so far. 

A source told the Telegraph: ‘The commission has taken evidence from across the UK, examined the data to create a rigorous fact-based report on what is often a highly charged debate.

‘It was important for commissioners to produce findings based on data and evidence to try and take down the temperature on this issue and have a debate based on the facts, not driven by ideology.’

She also warned that the damage could outweigh any benefits and urged police forces to consider whether a focus on tackling drug possession with stop and search was an effective use of the powers. 

Though police forces have stepped up use of the tactic in the past two years, there has been a decline following the killing of George Floyd in the US last May and the Black Lives Matter protests that followed globally.

In London alone, the number of stop and searches by Scotland Yard has fallen by 51 per cent from 43,938 in May 2020 to 21,243 in January this year.

The tactics have been defended by Deputy Commissioner Sir Stephen House, who said stop and search was being targeted ‘where the problem lies’. 

He told the Telegraph that meant an ethnic imbalance because ‘young black men are dying on the streets of London and are being stabbed on the streets of London and, candidly, are also stabbing on the streets of London’.  

However, Ms Williams in her report today said that there needed to be a ‘national debate’ on the use of the tactic.

She said one in 10 arrests from stop and search were for public order offences after nothing was found, which could ’cause or reinforce negative attitudes’ toward the police and damage community relations.

Ms Williams said: ‘Unfair use of powers can be counterproductive if it leads people to think it is acceptable to not comply with the law.

‘It may also make people unwilling to report when they are the victim of crime or come forward as witnesses.

‘The police must be able to show the public that their use of these powers is fair, lawful and appropriate, or they risk losing the trust of the communities they serve.’

She went on: ‘Forces should reflect on the findings of this report. They should analyse their data and either explain, with evidence, the reasons for disproportionality, or take demonstrable action to address it.

‘The police service must be able to show the public evidence that their use of the powers is fair, lawful and appropriate, or risk losing the trust of the communities they serve.’ 

The report also said that data from 2019/20 shows ethnic minority people were over four times more likely to be stopped and searched than white people, and that black people specifically were nearly nine times more likely.

It said: ‘Over 35 years on from the introduction of stop and search legislation, no force fully understands the impact of the use of these powers.

‘Disproportionality persists and no force can satisfactorily explain why.’

Data from the same time period found black people were about 5.7 times more likely to have force used on them than white people, with figures showing they were more than nine times as likely to have Tasers drawn on them.

The report reveals black people were also eight times more likely to be handcuffed while compliant and three times more likely to have a spit and bite guard used on them than white people, for reasons the inspectorate said are ‘unclear’. 

Brandishing the use of these powers as ‘unfair’, the watchdog warned this risks further reducing public trust in the police and could lead to more black and ethnic minority people being drawn into the criminal justice system, as well as disrupt their education and family lives and reduce their work opportunities.

‘It feeds perceptions among the public and police about black people and crime, and may also influence how the police allocate and deploy resources,’ Ms Williams said in the report.

While improvements were made in 2018/19 in monitoring stop and search, the report states too many police forces still do not analyse and monitor enough information and data ‘to understand fully how fairly and effectively the powers are used’.

Inspectors found the most common reason given for the use of stop and search is due to suspected drug possession ‘rather than supply’, which it said indicates that ‘efforts are not being effectively focused on force priorities’.

It cited one such priority as county lines, the criminal network of gangs that use a dedicated mobile phone line to distribute drugs, usually from an urban area to a smaller town.

‘Forces often cite county lines as a reason for stop and search, but to be most effective, policing tactics to address this need to target drugs supply more effectively,’ Ms Williams said in her report.

The inspectorate is calling on police leaders to consider whether focusing stop and search on tackling drug possession is an effective use of these powers.

The Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) welcomed the report and said the use of stop and search powers ‘within certain communities has long been a cause for concern’.

IOPC director general Michael Lockwood said: ‘Only by understanding the causes of this disproportionality – and helping officers to understand fully how their use of stop and search and use of force impacts on those most affected – can we start to make the changes that are needed.

‘The report highlights the fundamental shift we need to see in the culture of policing in being open and accountable when concerns are raised.’ 

NPCC’s lead for stop and search, deputy assistant commissioner Amanda Pearson, said the police body will ‘consider the recommendation around the best approaches to tackling drug crime’.

She added: ‘We hold the power of stop and search on behalf of the public so it is vital our communities have confidence in the way it is used and that officers have the confidence to use it effectively and appropriately.’  

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