News that 20 police officers are being investigated for racism might lead some to welcome the apparent purge on a few bad apples, yet failure to address deeper institutional issues can only mean cartloads of more such apples arriving to replace them.
The Stephen Lawrence (Macpherson) public inquiry highlighted the need to tackle a ‘canteen culture’ that bred racist policing. Weeding out ‘a few bad apples’ was no more than window dressing, a PR exercise designed to reassure the public they had put their house in order.
Quite simply the apples are the symptom rather than the cause. The cause being the very nature of who they recruit and promote; lack of sensitivity to issues of how they police black communities; and their failure to promote race equality in their organisation and listen to black officers. In other words, institutional racism.
As Lee Jasper pointed out in a blog piece yesterday:
“The Commissioner has publicly restated his commitment to tackling racism within the MPS, pointing out that isolated incidents of racism do not make an institutionally racist organisation.
“The problem with this analysis is that it is only in the minds of the senior management board at Scotland Yard, that these latest incidents are seen in stupefying isolation.
“The reality is that over the last four years London’s black communities have lost all confidence in the MPS”.
Suspending, disciplining or even sacking a handful of officers is not enough to convince everyone that their mission is accomplished. Nothing less than a Lawrence 2.0 root-and-branch reform of the whole policing system is going to win that confidence.
I would like to see each and every allegation of racism by a member of the public heard before a panel of BAME laypeople at a police and race equality tribunal who would make recommendations of discipline or exoneration to senior police. Give the public and solicitors the right to view video/audio from cameras attached to each and every beat officer so that if an allegation is made the evidence will confirm or deny that allegation.
Ban the IPCC from hiring former police to investigate alleged police wrongdoing, strengthen it’s legal powers to hold police to account and restructure the organisation to cut loyalties and sympathies with the force and re-balance it’s outlook towards the victim. And move much faster and further towards recruiting the bulk of new officers from graduates and professionals to erode the corrosive effect of hiring semi-literate thugs and secret Far Right sympathisers.
Neighbourhood panels in every ward where local people set the priorities for the police; the right for everyone to freely record police stop and searches without fear of intimidation – including those being stopped; a free App explaining their rights and proper police procedure; and a law to make it mandatory to have a fully functioning CCTV with audio in every police van and cell.
Others may have different prescriptions for reforming the police, but certainly it will require changes of this order to make a difference. The few bad apples theorem was discredited in the 1990s when a light was shone onto police culture. Today, we need to shine a new light and come up with new solutions to tackling institutional racism in the police.