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Suffolk: Are the police still guilty of institutional racism?

PUBLISHED: 13:15 11 March 2014 | UPDATED: 13:15 11 March 2014

Franstine Jones , who has made history as the first woman president of the National Black Police Association.

Franstine Jones , who has made history as the first woman president of the National Black Police Association.

Sarah Lucy brown

Police forces across the country are still blighted by institutional racism, stopping and searching a disproportionately high number of black people and failing to recruit and promote enough people from ethnic minorities.

That’s the verdict of Franstine Jones, who works in Suffolk Police’s diversity unit and was elected president of the National Black Police Association (NBPA) in October, the first woman to hold the post in the organisation’s history and the first civilian.

Her damning comments come days after Home Secretary Theresa May announced a judge-led public inquiry into undercover policing after a review found a Metropolitan Police officer spied on the family of Stephen Lawrence, who was fatally stabbed in a racist attack by a gang of white teenagers in 1993, and may have misled an earlier public inquiry into the handling of the case led by Sir William Macpherson, a retired High Court judge.

Sir William’s report, which was published in 1999, accused the Met of “institutional racism” and made 70 recommendations aimed at “the elimination of racist prejudice and disadvantage and the demonstration of fairness in all aspects of policing”.

Fifteen years on Ms Jones recognises that progress has been made but says the police service is still guilty of institutional racism.

“There have been improvements but not enough to make the difference that is needed,” she said. “If you look at the (Macpherson) inquiry’s definition of institutional racism it clearly still exists in the police service today.

“If there wasn’t institutional racism you would not have more black people than white people being stopped and searched and you would have real black and ethnic minority representation in the police service. It takes so long for a black person to progress in the police service that by the time they do progress they are getting close to retirement. Why don’t we have any ethnic minority police officer above the rank of sergeant in Suffolk?

“It is about trust and confidence in the police service. If you don’t see a police force that represents you, why would you put yourself in that environment (and join)?

“If you are black you are more likely to be stopped and searched. If you are black you are more likely to be represented in the criminal justice system and if you are black you are more likely not to progress than your white counterparts. If you are black you are more likely to be the victim of a crime than your white counterparts so when you look at who has the power to make decisions, what does that look like?”

Ms Jones acknowledges huge improvements have been made since Stephen Lawrence’s murder and says that in Suffolk Chief Constable Douglas Paxton and other senior officers are committed to recruiting more officers from ethnic minorities and addressing other areas of concern.

But, she adds, all the evidence is that much work remains to be done - both locally and nationally.

Figures published by StopWatch, which aims to address excess and disproportionate stop and search, show across Suffolk black people are stopped and searched by police at a rate of 4.7 times that of whites. People from mixed backgrounds and Asians are searched at 2.3 and 1.4 times the rate of whites, respectively. Nationally, black people are six times more likely to be stopped than whites and Asians and other minorities twice as likely.

In addition, a 2009 report by the Home Affairs Select Committee into the progress made towards tackling racism in the police since Macpherson found a target of employing 7% of officers from black and ethnic minority populations by 2009 had failed, with the overall percentage nationally rising from around 2% to only 4.1%.

An Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) spokeswoman said: “Much has changed in the police service over the last 20 years. While there is still further to go, the service has shown that it is willing to listen and learn from past events.

“The debate around the use of stop and search is complex. Without taking into account the nature of the search, where it takes place and the legislation under which it has been made, looking at disproportionality alone is too simplistic to tell us anything of value.

“Used correctly, stop and search can help cut crime and protect the public. It is intelligence-led, which means searches tend to target crime hotspots and particular areas and we recognise this can lead to a disproportionate effect on some groups and communities. Chief officers have been working with the Equality and Human Rights Commission, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and the Home Office to improve use of stop and search.

“Police leaders have been vocal about the need for constructive conversation about how we make policing more diverse and representative of our communities because progress has been difficult and too slow. Police chiefs are doing all they can within current law but have questioned whether, without more radical change, policing will be able to increase representation as quickly as we want and need to.”

Suffolk Police Assistant Chief Constable David Skevington said: “Suffolk Constabulary is committed to dealing fairly with all sections of the community. The number of people from a BME (Black and Minority Ethnic) background who are actually being stopped and searched in the county is relatively low, therefore any slight increase in the number of people being stopped and searched can have a significant impact.

“However, the constabulary has comprehensive equality assurance procedures in place to ensure all encounters are carried out in accordance with the relevant codes of practice and only when officers have appropriate grounds.

“Additionally we work with the Ipswich and Suffolk Council for Racial Equality, the Stop and Search Improvement Partnership, and the Stop and Search Reference Group to ensure our use of the Stop and Search powers is fair and effective.

“Suffolk Constabulary actively encourages officers of BME backgrounds to seek progression within the police if that is a road they choose to take.”

Suffolk police and crime commissioner Tim Passmore admitted there was work to do but said: “It is an integral part of our police and crime plan that the workforce reflects the community it serves. On stop and search I am concerned to make sure that it is used in the correct manner.”

Macpherson’s definition of institutional racism

“The collective failure of an organisation to provide an appropriate and professional service to people because of their colour, culture, or ethnic origin. It can be seen or detected in processes, attitudes and behaviour which amount to discrimination through unwitting prejudice, ignorance, thoughtlessness and racist stereotyping which disadvantage minority ethnic people.”

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