Not up to black officers to solve police racism, says barrister as plan launched

·3-min read
<span>Photograph: Oli Scarff/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Oli Scarff/Getty Images

Black police officers should not be expected to solve racism in forces and must be allowed to “get on with their job”, the head of the body scrutinising a plan for England and Wales to combat racism has said.

Compulsory anti-racism training will be given to all police officers alongside the targeted recruitment of black staff as part of a strategy released by the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) and the College of Policing to tackle prejudice among forces.

All officers and staff will be taught the history of the policing of black people and the impact of disproportionate interactions with law enforcement, the NPCC said.

The police race action plan, launched on Tuesday, also includes an apology for the “racism, discrimination and bias” still found in forces.

The barrister Abimbola Johnson, chair of an independent scrutiny and oversight board for the plan, said relying on recruiting more black officers would not be enough.

“I think that retention, recruitment and promotion are always positive aims when you’re looking at diversifying workforces, but in my opinion, that’s not sufficient,” she told BBC Radio 5 Live. “What’s more important is looking at the actual culture of an organisation.”

She said it was unfair to expect those already recruited to solve racism in forces. “You’re ultimately saying that it’s also the duty of black people themselves to solve racism and to solve racial disparities that they see in the workplace. Black people need to be able to enter a workplace and get on with their job.”

Black people are nine times more likely to be stopped and searched than white people. They are also five times more likely to have force used upon them.

Related: Black boy in stop and search ‘30 times’ accuses Met police of racist profiling

Despite the detailed plans for tackling prejudice, Sir Dave Thompson, the chief constable of West Midlands police, who is leading for police chiefs on the race plan, refused to say there was institutional racism in the police.

Thompson claimed he was “not trying to gaslight black communities” in an interview with BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, but would not accept the label.

“We absolutely do acknowledge that many in the community think policing is institutionally racist, and that’s the environment we have to work in. The position we’ve said is we’ve got to prove that we’re not, instead of being caught in a label that can be quite divisive.”

The Macpherson report, published in 1999 after the murder of Stephen Lawrence, found that the Metropolitan police were “institutionally racist”.

The Guardian revealed last week that City of London police was being sued by the black social worker Edwin Afriyie after he was shot with a stun gun and knocked unconscious during a roadside stop. He believes his treatment was racist and said he was “treated like a wild animal”.

Thompson said police were taking racism seriously in launching the strategy, adding: “We’re not shying away from the fact that this is about scrutinising and challenging how the police operates, not just the behaviour of what might be deemed a few bad apples or officers who may be racist.

“It’s about policies, process and practice and being really strongly evidence-based as to, ‘Why is that?’ and if we can’t explain it, we have to challenge ourselves and change.”

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