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Stephen Lawrence: where are we two decades after damning report?

Stephen Lawrence: where are we two decades after damning report?

Categories: Latest News

Thursday February 28 2019

20 years on from the Macpherson Report into the death of Stephen Lawrence, which branded the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) institutionally racist, we ask what progress has been made.

One of the underlying findings of the 1999 report was that the police force was institutionally racist, and was not immune from the racial prejudice plaguing society. Two decades later it seems there is still a long way to go.

Stephen’s mother, Baroness Lawrence, told the Home Affairs Committee that the fight against institutional racism in British policing has “stagnated” over the last 20 years, citing little progress on the recommendations made on the report. One such recommendation was to increase the proportion of black people in policing to 7% by 2009. However, Sgt Tola Munro, the president of the National Black Police Association, highlighted how the figure still sits at just 6% a decade after the deadline.

The Association of Muslim Police (AMP) submitted a report to the Home Affairs Committee in January 2019, which showed a 375% increase in the number of MPS Officers from a BME background, from 890 in 1999 to 4,230 in 2018. However, this still means BME officers make up a mere 14% of Officers in the MPS, compared to the BME population of London which sits at 40% – a vast disparity.

The AMP report also highlighted that the attrition rate of MPS BME Officers – the number that leave – stands at 4.4% in the first 2 years. In many cases exit interviews don’t happen, meaning the reasons for their departure remain unknown. This suggests that in the instance a BME Officer left due to a racist or intolerant culture, it would not be picked up due to the absence of an adequate monitoring mechanism. Indeed 16 Officers were recently caught making allegedly racist comments, showing that prejudicial sentiments and cultures still permeate throughout police forces. The fact they were exposed by cameras, rather than through an internal investigation, illustrates the need for a more pragmatic and effective system for rooting out such conduct on an institutional level.

There is also a fractured relationship between the community and police. An example of this is the low levels of hate crimes reported to the police from the Muslim community, something attributed to a lack of trust. Therefore, building a relationship with the community should be a priority. However, changes to the Neighbourhood Policing Model have already led to fewer interactions taking place between communities and the police, arguably making the problem worse.

It seems that 20 years on the lack of trust in the police, and representation in police forces, are problems which still persist.

Police forces need to set up surgeries at various community centres to make themselves more visible, accessible and accountable to their communities. Not doing so risks creating a wider gulf between the two groups.

The lack of communication between the police and communities can also mean important information is not fed back to policymakers. Being oblivious to the true extent of Islamophobic hate crime, for example, means an adequate response to this type of crime cannot be formulated. This leaves communities to suffer.

The worrying lack of representation and retention of BME talent in police forces demonstrates the need for a more effective course of action internally. This would obviously require a more BME-focused recruitment drive and campaign to attract BME Police officers naturally. Furthermore, better efforts should be made to understand why BME Police officers are leaving police forces. However, if these initiatives fail to rectify the inadequate representation, legislative quotas and requirements may need to be put in place.

Ultimately, unless police forces reflect the communities they claim to serve, not only will they fail to win trust and confidence, but the threat of them repeating the mistakes highlighted in the Macpherson Report will continue to overshadow their work.

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