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Knife crime, institutional racism, and lessons for policing 20 years on from
the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry
Newton. J*., Crego, J., Miah, A.H., Lawrence, N. and Grieve, J. (2020)
*correspondence to firstname.lastname@example.org
Jennifer Newton PhD, is Associate Lecturer, London Metropolitan University, retired Head of School of Social
Sciences. researcher and academic, specialising in preventive approaches with young people vulnerable to
behavioural problems and/or mental ill-health; and in the management and evaluation of public services.
Jonathan Crego, PhD, MBE, is visiting Professor, Canterbury Christchurch University, Director of the Hydra
Foundation, designer of Hydra, Minerva and 10,000 Volts debriefing methodologies, used in training, and
dealing with critical incidents.
Abdul Hye Miah is a retired police officer and lecturer in Policing and Investigations at De Montfort University
and member of the London Policing Ethics Panel.
Neville Lawrence, OBE, Honorary doctorate, is the father of murdered SL, retired upholsterer, campaigner for
racial equality and fairness, particularly in British police services, and for full implementation of the SLI
John Grieve CBE QPM Emeritus Professor, is a retired academic and retired senior detective. He served on
Murder Squads, investigated Organised Crime, Counter Terrorism, Intelligence and created the first Hate Crime
unit. For the last 18 years he had been an academic teaching globally, researching and writing about policing.
He has published over 35 articles and chapters and co-edited or co-authored four books.
The publication of the Inquiry following the fatal stabbing of Black teenager Stephen
Lawrence was a landmark in moves toward addressing ‘institutional racism’ in the police.
On its 20th anniversary, a one-day event was held in London to explore progress and
changes still needed, with key stakeholders (160): individuals and organisations from
minority communities and serving and retired senior officers from the police. The
conversation took place online through participants’ own laptops, using a tool that allows
the capture of text input from an unlimited number of anonymous networked sources
The majority view was that some change had occurred since the SLI, but too little. A
thematic analysis showed three familiar concerns remain dominant: the practice of Stop
and Search; police engagement with local communities; and recruitment, retention and
promotion of officers from BAME backgrounds. Numerous constructive suggestions for
improved practice were offered together with a community willingness to contribute to
making the required changes, as long as the initiatives involved a more equal partnership.
For instance, in advising and monitoring police practice, funded development work,
planning change, and in leadership roles in the service.
This underlying theme is argued here to be reflective of long established beliefs in the
need for clearly demonstrated procedural justice, best made apparent through strong
collaborative relationships. It suggests that co-production be further embedded into stop
and search, community policing, and recruitment, retention and progression: drawing on
the assets of the citizens served, and staff recruited, to bring new insights on what
matters most to them and how to achieve it.
The Stephen Lawrence Inquiry1 (SLI) published in 1999 five years after the murder of the
Black teenager, when he and his friend were attacked by a racist group of young White men
wielding knives, is widely recognised in the UK as a pivotal moment in moves to improve the
policing of minority communities. Stephen’s parents, Neville and Doreen Lawrence, and
their supporters campaigned vigorously to have the very serious flaws in the response and
investigation by the police addressed, eventually resulting in the Home Secretary appointing
Sir William Macpherson2 to lead a public inquiry. The lengthy report contained 70
recommendations. These were to address the central concern – that the explanation for
many of the errors of judgement and action were because the police service was
‘institutionally racist’. These recommendations detailed every stage of policing governance,
procedure and beyond, advising changes to law, policy and practice wherever racism had
impacted on the fair working of policing or the justice system.
Twenty years on, it might be expected that significant progress would have been achieved in
meeting the 70 recommendations, enabling BAME communities to feel that institutional
racism in policing has reduced, that the issues identified have to some extent been
addressed, a better response for Black victims of knife crime resulting. The first
recommendation of the SLI (see Appendix) – that a ministerial priority for all police services
should be to increase trust and confidence in policing amongst minority ethnic communities
- forms the framework for analysis in the current paper, drawing on a structured
conversation in London with representatives of the key parties (see below). The purpose of
the study is to help galvanise further action toward achieving the SLI recommendations, and
thereby improve trust.
In keeping with the request of the Inquiry we refer to the report as the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry and not as
the Macpherson Report, as some authors do.
The Inquiry was Judicial but with lay advisers from BAME, religion, policing, philanthropy and community
activism. It sat for nearly two years and met both in London and at five other locations in England. It was
serviced by Home Office officials and was followed up with a detailed action plan and a steering group chaired
by the Home Secretary (Home Office 1999). 51 of the recommendations referred to policing and the
remainder to other parts of society and the state. 55 of the recommendations were accepted outright the
others in part or subject to discussions.
This remains particularly relevant in 2021 coming as it does just after the review by Wendy
Williams was published (Williams, 2020)3, detailing the effects of the UK ‘hostile
environment’ policy on people arriving to the UK from the Caribbean between 1948 and
1971 (the Windrush generation). It is clear that many recommendations of the SLI have not
been adequately adopted within the Home Office itself.
In fact, given the extensive demonstrations in the UK and around the world since May 2020,
often under the banner of Black Lives Matter, after the latest video of the alleged killing of a
Black man – this time, George Floyd - by a White US police officer (since found guilty of
second-degree murder) was shared on social media, it is very evident even before turning to
our own data, that whatever progress there has been, it is far too little. Hence the further
exploration of theory for this paper needs to question why progress continues so slowly,
and whether the concept of institutional racism more accurately reflects a bias so
embedded in wider social structures that efforts by police management are unlikely to work
on their own.
The twentieth anniversary of the publication of the SLI in 2019 seemed an appropriate point
for the John Grieve Centre, in collaboration with Stephen Lawrence’s father, Neville, to
facilitate a sharing of views on what remains to be done to achieve a greater level of trust in
the police. The one-day event brought together a large number of well informed and
appropriately experienced people both to review progress on the recommendations of the
SLI, and to give their views on what remains to be done. Over 160 people attended, from
minority communities, from community groups and NGOs, hate crime services and social
work, retired and serving police of all ranks (including the current lead on diversity issues
and the Commissioner), and students. At least 134 of them were logged in online to
comment on the presentations, and to give their views on the issues raised, through the
10,000 volts de-briefing tool, which ensures all comments are anonymous (see below, and
Crego, 2018). They were able to type in their comments throughout the day. This paper is a
summary and analysis of the delegates’ comments (which totaled over 35,000 words)
together with some conclusions, including the continuing relevance of the SLI, and shaped
by a consideration of the state of relationships between the police and the BAME
community in the UK.
Trust, confidence and institutional racism
For the purposes of the SLI, Macpherson defined institutional racism as
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
Williams was tasked in 2019 with identifying lessons to be learnt from the catastrophic impact of the 2012
UK ‘hostile environment policy’ on people from the Caribbean invited to come to the UK between 1948 (when
the first group arrived on the Windrush) and 1971 when the Immigration Act gave all Commonwealth citizens
already living in the UK indefinite leave to remain. Many had their legal status overturned and lost jobs,
homes, benefits and access to the NHS due to administrative incompetence, ignorance, thoughtlessness.
Williams did not find evidence to support a finding of ‘institutional racism’ but she comes close to it
processes, attitudes and behaviour which amount to discrimination through unwitting
prejudice, ignorance, thoughtlessness and racist stereotyping which disadvantages minority
ethnic people. (SLI 6.34)
That bias persists in the workings of the criminal justice system in the UK would be hard to
dispute. While statistics cannot be used to indicate causal processes on their own, the
continuing marked discrepancy in the representation of Black people at all stages of the
criminal justice system (in stop and searches, arrests, prosecutions, convictions, average
custodial sentence length and prisoner population) shown in official data (National Statistics
2017) gives a strong indication that all is not well. A review of the literature by
Antonopoulos in 2003 also described the extensive evidence of the differential police
treatment of ethnic minorities, particularly Black people, not just in the UK. He noted too
the problematic effect on attitudes toward the police, and in turn on recruitment of ethnic
minority people into the service. Over-policing of ethnic minorities in France (particularly
north Africans, Carr-Hill, 1987), Australia (particularly Aboriginal people, Thorpe, 1987), the
US (Holmes, 2000), are a handful of examples suggesting that the roots of the racism are
structural (Antonopoulos, 2003). Other studies cited by Antonopoulos note the evidence of
higher rates of stop and search of Black minorities in several countries including the UK, and
the further damage to police-community relations in each case.
After a period of reduced use, Stop and Search is now being used again more often in
London, in an attempt to reduce knife carrying4. Part of the reduced use was linked to the
experience by young Black men of being targeted unfairly, from stereotyping rather than
realistic grounds for suspicion, and the limited effectiveness of the strategy (Bowling and
Phillips, 2007; Keeling, 2017). Nationally, Black people were eight times more likely than
White people to be stopped in 2016-17 (National Statistics 2017), too often without grounds
for suspicion. The consequence, according to Keeling (2017) has been a strong sense of
unfairness by minority sections of the community, with a seriously negative effect on
community – police relationships.
Trust in the police has of course been undermined by fatal incidents reported, sometimes
resulting from the vast increase in community journalism using cameras on mobile phones
to record and in some cases edit police community interactions. Mistrust particularly
focusses on those cases where perceived police malpractice has not resulted in criminal
convictions. Names of victims have then become a focus for demonstrations – in the US -
Walter Scott, Eric Garner (Yankah, 2019), more recently, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd.
But similar concerns have been raised in the UK too, of the failures to successfully prosecute
for deaths in custody, and the inevitable damaging effect on confidence of the communities
of those affected and their supporters (El-Enany and Bruce-Jones, 2015).
See BBC news March 2019 https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-47760645
Evidence for the effects on public opinion, and in particular, on the trust of the police
among young Black people, are clear both in the US and the UK. Two of the latest polls
demonstrate this. A survey of a nationally representative sample of over 10,000 US adults
by the Pew Research Centre found that only half of Black Americans under age 40 have a
good or fair amount of confidence in the police to act in the best interests of the public,
compared to at least 70% of same aged Hispanics or White people. Older Black people had
slightly more confidence, but still markedly fewer than Hispanics and Whites in the same
age group (see Gilberstadt, 2020). One of the latest polls in the UK asked not about
confidence, but about institutional racism, and shows that the problem is perceived to be in
many other institutions as well as the police service. NumberCruncher Politics (2020) show
that the majority (63%) of the sample population (over 3,000 adults) believe there is a fair
amount or a great deal of racism in the UK, and see this in the public sector (schools and
the police) but also in football and in large companies, and in the justice system and
parliament. Again, roughly twice as many Black respondents as White said this was so, while
BME as a larger group were between the two. While the police topped the table with as
many as 77% of Black people saying they thought there was a great deal or a fair amount of
racism in the service, the proportion who saw it elsewhere was still very substantial – 65% in
big companies, 62% in football and in schools.
However, the issue facing the police is the very real over-representation of Black young men
among perpetrators of knife crime, and the higher rates of knife crime in disadvantaged
areas and areas where the population is particularly diverse.
Knife crime and ethnicity
Knife crime among all sections of the community continues to present a challenge for the
pubic, NHS and police services, not only for the many tragic deaths resulting, but also the
appalling numbers and effects of injuries. In fact, Sara Thornton, when chair of the National
Police Chief’s Council suggested that “the recent spate of deadly stabbings involving young
people should be treated as a national emergency.” (Weaver, 2019).
The numbers are disturbing, the causes complex. Most knife crime in England and Wales in
2018-19 was ‘Assault with injury and intent to cause serious harm’ (21,700), or robbery
(20,172), (Allen et al, 2019, drawing on ONS data for a House of Commons briefing paper).
Allen and colleagues also provide the NHS data confirming 5149 FCEs in England 2018-9
(finished consultant episodes, ie those admitted as in-patients for treatment, not including
those treated in Accident and Emergency and discharged, so representing only the severe
end of the spectrum). Most of these admissions were male (over 90%) and admitted as
emergencies. While not as high as the peak of 5720 in 2006-7, they have been climbing
again after a slight fall and are approaching the highs of the latter dates.
Stabbings are often of people known to the perpetrator(s), and much has been noted about
the role of gangs and drugs in contributing to these numbers. The latter is thought to be a
more important cause of knife crime than the former (The Mayor of London, 2019).
However, the Stephen Lawrence murder was a classic hate crime, a killing of a person due
to his skin colour, someone unknown to the perpetrators. There were elements of gang like
behaviour amongst the assailants, but there was no indication at all of any gang or drug
related factor connected to the victims. Hate crime includes crime motivated by hate of a
person or group due to race, religion, sexuality, transgender identity or disability, but
racially motivated hate crime is by far the most common of these, constituting three
quarters (78,991 offences) of the 103,379 hate crimes recorded by the police in England and
Wales in 2018/19, and is increasing (Home Office, 2019). Recorded hate crimes, however,
are not often fatal stabbings, but nevertheless, are incidents that are crucial for the police to
address to ensure the population can feel safe and protected - racially motivated
harassment, threats or affray.
Crime data produced by the Metropolitan Police for their Knife Crime Strategy published in
2017 describes 50 non-domestic violence related knife crimes in London where the victim
died, in the twelve months to March 2017 and notes that almost half of the victims were
“Black males aged between 15 and 24 years of age.” Furthermore, in the same period, there
were “4,400 victims injured as a result of knife crime – from slight injuries to serious, life
threatening wounds” . Half were 24 years old or younger, “with 6 in 10 young male victims
recorded as from BAME backgrounds. More specifically, almost half of all young male
victims of knife crime with injury were of Black ethnicity” (Mayor of London, 2017). The
perpetrators were also disproportionately Black young men – “Of male offenders, over half
were described as Black males aged under 25 years of age.” The Strategy paper also reminds
us that victims and perpetrators are not separate groups, that there is an overlap, in part
due to young people carrying a knife out of concern for their own safety.
The challenge for a police service that has some tensions with and lack of trust from the
Black community, is clear. How to address a disproportionately Black crime with action that
does not contain or convey racist assumptions.
Furthermore, efforts to recruit a fully representative set of Black and minority police
officers, have signally failed to yet reach the targets set.
Like many before and since, Holmes and Smith (2018) note that ‘improving intergroup
relations depends on factors such as equal-status contact between groups, the existence of
common group goals, and intergroup cooperation.’ This of course is what Allport (1954)
suggested many decades before, in one of the most influential theories on prejudice
reduction. Put simply, the more contact between groups, the less prejudice. This was
confirmed in a meta-analysis of 515 studies by Pettigrew and Tropp (2006), and they also
showed that the reduction is greatest when the contact follows the optimal conditions
outlined by Allport. That is, groups meet on an equal basis, in structured contact
arrangements, to pursue common goals, with institutional support.
Some of the new violence reduction strategies taking a preventive perspective as in Glasgow
and described as a ‘public health approach’ show a move in this direction, and might
arguably improve relationships between the wider public and the police more than
strategies proposing organizational reform, as the failure of so many initiatives have shown
(Cohen, 2017). Change needs hearts and minds support, and perhaps change management
approaches. As Paul Wilson (2000), former chair of the UK National Black Police Association
argues, recruiting more Black officers will not change the culture, but changing the culture
might bring larger numbers of Black officers.
As new recruits to the police in the UK more often join because they are attracted to the
idea of helping people – citizen protection and safeguarding, rather than an interest in the
physical toughness needed as a crime fighter (Charman, 2017), and initiatives such as
PoliceNow with neighbourhood policing at its heart is popular and showing early signs of
improving trust, (though little evidence yet of effectiveness against crime, PoliceNow, 2018),
one might suggest that the development of more equal partnerships with communities may
be welcomed by many in the police.
Bhugowandeen (2013) provides an interesting example in Slough, where 40% of the
population in 2003 were Asian, with the deployment of Asian officers to reassure those
fearful of racist attacks following the 9/11 tragedy. Despite strong commitment to improve
BAME recruitment, Thames Valley Police were struggling to do so, but this initiative
improved confidence in the police among the Muslim community, and gave an increased
sense of value to some BAME officers.
This kind of approach and the development of a police community partnership is of course
central to the ethos of community policing, long seen as the best way to improve trust and
confidence in the police (Alderson, 1998; Grieve, 2010; Sutherland, 2020). However,
partnership can be at varying levels, from information sharing, to collaboration, with true
equal partnership in the form of co-production far from the norm, if indeed it exists
anywhere. There is evidence that community policing does indeed improve trust, though
not always effective in improving crime rates (Crowl, 2017).
It is in poor neighbourhoods that the challenge is greatest of course, and in countries such
as the UK and the US where the gap between rich and poor is particularly high, the homicide
rates show the expected correlation with inequality (Wilkinson, 2009), for instance, ‘three-
quarters of the boroughs in London with the highest levels of violent offending are also in
the top 10 most deprived’ (Mayor of London, 2019)
As a free5, one-day event, participation could be controlled, such that up to 50% of the
places were reserved for those representing ethnic minority needs: BAME individuals with a
particular interest in the issues and/or linked with one of a number of BAME community
organisations; 25% for police officers and leaders; and 25% for those with a related paid
role. Conference participants were requested to bring their own laptop computers, and
those arriving without them were supplied with one for the day. They were guided, and if
necessary, assisted to log into the app, and the integrity of their anonymity explained in the
opening session before they logged in. The plan for use of their comments in the analysis
described here was clarified on the invitation to participate in the event, and again on the
day, so that informed consent to the process and output were ensured (more detail on 10kv
methodology at Crego, 2018).
One facilitator (JC) who was also logged into the app, typed in some prompts to encourage
participants to engage on the app, but restricted these to open questions such as ‘What has
changed since the SLI?’ ‘What has been the impact of the SLI on you?’ ‘… or your
organisation?’ ‘What remains to be done?’ ‘How can we make working with the police
better?’ And some single words/phrases were also posted, supplied by delegates in
response to an early question from the facilitator, on concepts core to improving trust and
confidence in the police, to help galvanise further detail. Words posted included trust,
equality, support, family, humility, accountability, justice, being treated equally, leadership.
Participants could comment under each or any (or none) throughout the day. Additional
questions were added by the facilitator and chairs linked to discussion of presentations
during the day, such as on stop and search, taking care to reflect the input, not to shape it,
but to ensure there was an appropriate place to capture the thoughts of all participants on
all issues arising. The facilitator also took care to respond swiftly to any inappropriate posts
(ie offensive, racist, lack of respect), by deleting them.
Hence, the qualitative method used was an emergent design, with the themes and grouping
of comments shaped by participants and issues discussed throughout the day.
The conference began with reflections from Neville Lawrence on London life and experience
of policing for Black families since the death of his son. In relation to the recommendations
of the SLI, he suggested delegates focus their thoughts and comments on Recommendation
number 2 (see Appendix), where he felt that there had initially been very good progress, but
in the second decade, he thought that the situation was no longer improving and if
anything, it was slipping back. There followed input from senior staff and retired staff from
policing in London, including the current Commissioner, the former Director of the Racial
and Violent Crime Task Force of the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) (JG), the Police Hate
Crime Policy Lead at the National Police Chiefs' Council and the retired MPS Director of
Strategic Inclusion and Diversity . Directors of two community groups also gave their own
The other authors gratefully acknowledge the generous sponsorship of London Metropolitan University and
the Hydra Foundation - a charity founded by Professor Jonathan Crego MBE who provided the facilitation, the
equipment and the initial collection of the data free of charge.
views on progress: Faith Matters and the Traveller Movement, along with the founder of the
Gypsy, Roma, Traveller Police Association. Suggestions on ways to reduce the continuing
problems of violent street crime and institutional racism were offered by three more
community groups: CST (protecting the Jewish community); Routes2Succes - Black Training
and Enterprise Group (BTEG); and StopWatch.
To identify and summarise the main themes, conventional content analysis of the full text
was used. That is, coding categories were derived directly and inductively from the raw data
itself ( Lune and Berg, 2017) to reflect the meaning of the comments of participants of the
conference in relation to the issues that concerned them. Inductive reasoning goes from the
specific to the general. That is, numerous specific instances are identified and a pattern
noted, that permits a generalisation and a potential explanation. These themes included
those linked directly to the prompt questions and key words, but the whole text was used,
not just that placed under each header, as delegates comments were not simply linked to
these. Additional themes and sub-themes also became clear. For instance, those suggesting
what else needs to happen contained several subthemes, the strongest, in terms of
numbers of suggestions, was linked to the themes of community engagement and
The dominant themes, in terms of those on which the largest numbers of participants had
something (and often a great deal) to say, were, in order of frequency:
1. Whether or not anything had improved since the SLI;
2. How they felt about Stop and Search;
3. Whether or not the term ‘institutional racism’ was still helpful;
4. The need for much more community engagement by the police, and visible
5. The need for more ‘people like us’ in the Metropolitan Police Service at all levels
6. Thoughts on the police leadership required
Changes since the SLI
Many participants cited important changes since the SLI that they suggested were a direct
consequence of that report.
Much was done to fix the system for homicide investigation and is now woven into the fabric
of the modern police response. Examples include family liaison, decision logs and PIP
(Professional Investigation Project) which led to systematic training and accreditation
most people and senior managers are much more aware now of potential lack of fairness
and racist systems, processes of institutions and individual behaviour
Some of these comments were noting the changes that the SLI report had brought for them
has made me see better some of the prejudice, and a shock to see that we don't all get the
same service from police.
Some were more ambivalent:
there has been some progress, i.e. Institutional Racism has been acknowledged within the
police force post Stephen Lawrence; however, it feels as if there is now a complacency
I was in the Civil Service at the time, and I found that a lot of racism existed throughout the
Civil Service and still does
The largest number of comments about change, however, were expressing emphatically
that there has been very little:
in my opinion we are "awaiting change". I still fear for my Black sons, even though they have
Little has changed since the report as there has still been a large number of high profile
cases where BAME families are still not treated fairly
In fact, there were a few extreme criticisms by delegates, for whom memory of past police
failures and injustices still shaped their views of the police. These angry sentiments were
particularly strong where it was felt that the police had not been properly held accountable,
and the process of investigation was not transparent – for deaths in custody, excessive use
of force more widely, inappropriate imprisonment, evidence withheld at trial.
There are custody deaths and prison deaths occurring that are not highlighted openly, yet a
lot of cover up goes on.
Public trust in the police is diminished each time we hear about the racist actions of those
who go without consequence, particularly by those who are in a position of power
Once the issue of Stop and Search was raised, it became clear that this was perhaps the
issue most strongly linked in the minds of many delegates with feelings of trust (or distrust)
in the police, particularly in relation to the over-representation of the young Black men
subject to stops.
Stop and Search
However, although there were some strong criticisms of the way Stop and Search policy is
implemented, particularly the disproportionate targeting of young Black men, participants
were not advocating it be ended. There was cautious support for the policy from most
Done professionally and well, Stop and Search works. It saves lives
Hence the largest number of comments were of the variety – ‘yes the policy is needed,
The ‘buts’ were about respect, having reasonable suspicion, explanation for this, use of
When patrol officers conduct a bad stop and search it can lead to immense damage to the
community and to the victim…
To share results of some research I conducted, all the BAME young men I spoke with without
exception inferred the following: police can stick their hands in my pockets as often as they
like if it will save the life of one of my friends, BUT they must do it with respect and dignity
and not a show of power
If stop and search is done right, it might be able to make a humiliating experience an
acceptable one. Police should be trained in doing it by experiencing it.
ensure all officers who use the power are wearing body worn video to protect both the
officer and the subject of the search
Some argued that it should be used much less frequently, and many that the
disproportionate stops with Black people must be addressed:
…reign in stop and search and stop the damage to community relations.
the hugely disproportionate number of Black people stopped compared to their White
counterparts is horrific and disastrous for building community confidence in non-racist
policing in 2019!
There was also a concern that too many young people were unnecessarily criminalised
Need more thought about disposal, and too casual use of cautions which are so extremely
There were a number of comments suggesting improved scrutiny was needed, and many
suggestions for how, in particular, for instance:
Should we be looking at a system similar to police custody Lay Visitors (post Scarman)6
whereby community volunteers are able to patrol & observe stop/search in action?
Alternatively, could BWV7 of stop/search be made available to independent scrutiny?
However, two participants drew attention to the existence of Community Scrutiny Panels
(CSPs) in many areas, of which it seems, given the absence of comment, that many
participants were unaware. The report by the Criminal Justice Alliance – Stop and Scrutinise8
was mentioned by one of the only two respondents to refer to these, which in fact contains
recommendations very similar to those of the SLI conference participants.
In fact the unannounced attendance in the police custody suite of lay visitors predates Scarman by 5 years
but was given wider application and added impetus by him, see Fisher (1977).
Body worn video cameras which are now routinely used by the police service to record everyday contacts
Kalyan, K.K. and Keeling, P. (2019) Stop and Scrutinise: how to improve community scrutiny of Stop and
Search. London: Criminal Justice Alliance
Hence while there was some division in views, there were actually many areas of
agreement: that it must be done professionally and with good reason, that often this is not
the case, but when it is, this is an important preventive strategy:
it provides an opportunity for positive engagement between officer and person stopped,
visible reassurance to the community that the police are taking violent crime concerns
seriously, and a visible deterrent to would-be offenders
More delegates, however, were worried about misuse, poorly conducted and unjustified
stops, and damaging effects on community relations. The length of many comments, and
the range of concerns raised reflects well the continuing anxiety about the practice, and the
challenges in balancing crime control and community relations, particularly while so many
more Black people are being stopped.
The term ‘institutional racism’
The SLI concluded that
There must be an unequivocal acceptance of the problem of institutional racism and its
nature before it can be addressed, as it needs to be, in full partnership with members of
minority ethnic communities.
The majority view of the delegates was similar. Considering whether the term is still useful,
the view from a very large number of comments was that it is:
Certainly! It describes exactly what the root cause of the issues members of the BAME face
on a day to day basis
Yes… institutional racism focusses on the structures and processes within these institutions
which lead to inequality and disadvantage
About one in four of those expressing a view felt there were real problems with the term,
and these comments echo many made in a number of reviews since 1999, that the SLI
damaged recruitment, particularly from BAME communities:
I believe it is an intimidating term, it gives the impression that this well rooted culture and
behaviour could not be changed
Such comments link to another concern raised – albeit by smaller numbers of delegates, but
about how the wider public perceptions of the police and of BAME people can be damaged
by the media, and careless use of language, feeding unnecessary negativity and
stereotyping. Of similar concern was the copious racist material on social media, and
platforms inciting violence and hate, for which delegates hoped to see stronger legislation.
The need for much more community engagement by the police, and visible community
The strongest theme amongst reflections on ‘what needs to change?’ were positive
suggestions about how to strengthen police-community relationships, about the need to
form partnerships with the police to fight crime, and for police to be far more visible,
through shared sports activities, going into schools, patrolling the streets. Many suggested
these kinds of interventions were necessary to strengthen the preventive role of the police,
and that police should be proactive. These particular suggestions would fulfill all of Allport’s
(1954) recommendations for prejudice reduction mentioned earlier.
There should be proper community policing…and eg run football coaching sessions for kids if
they have kids themselves…
facilitate discussion with those at the edge of the cjs to enable coproduction of all services
Initiatives such as patrolling together. This is working for CST so why not extend to other
Form partnerships with charities and agencies that work with marginalised young people
Get invited to local community events in uniform and be available for discussion. Also
publicise and attend MP’s surgeries as an additional source of help, eg raising ASB issues
Build it into systems. Build time into diaries, deployments build a preventative and proactive
culture. Talk and build relationships with communities before it goes wrong
Or is there a Duke of Edinburgh award strand that could bring young people into close
contact with the police when they are in Years 10 and 11 (age 14/15)? This could have huge
benefits in so many directions.
Delegates recognised this required more visibility - police on the streets, an increase in
neighbourhood officers, hence an overall increase in resources.
Very many of the positive comments were also qualified by a suggestion that any
consultation or community involvement should be undertaken on a fully equal basis,
- do not make decisions for us - instead do it with us. consultation and community
engagement has become a farce. Respect the fact that we know what is good for us.
There is no legitimacy if things are done for a section of community but doesn't engage them
in the decision making, delivery and review.
Engagement mechanisms where community members are not just hand picked by the police.
And there were numerous comments bemoaning the reduction in role of the IAGs
(independent advisory groups), and extolling the benefits of engaging with newer
organisations, and arguing that communities should also be offered training to participate
effectively in police-community meetings:
Engage with Youth Commission9 – Cheshire has a good one
We need more Racial Harassment Forums and Racial Equality Councils. These need to be
properly resourced, networked and able to meet regularly to share knowledge and plan
Youth Commissions are now established in 8 police regions, supported by Leaders Unlocked, see
Bodies like EHRC need proper resourcing. It is no accident that community activity increases
when there are properly resourced community organisations. The REC Networks were able
to share information and help Commission for Racial Equality plan and deliver work.
Reinstate regular meetings between MPS hate crime IAG and the Home Office.
The need for more ‘people like us’ in the Metropolitan Police Service at all levels
This was another theme emerging strongly linked to the ‘what needs to change?’ prompt,
and revisited in comments throughout the day, with very many sharing these views:
As we look up to our senior grades if we do not see ourselves and those we serve and work
to protect this is deeply problematic.
There were numerous positive suggestions about how to achieve this. In terms of
Vetting needs to be reviewed for those coming from deprived backgrounds to reflect that
to ensure selection processes are fair, use Equality Act and other legislation that allows for
supporting under represented groups through the process. Sussex Police has increased the
number of officers by tracking and offering support at the stages where Black applicants
Talk to communities about barriers to joining - structural, cultural both internally and
externally. Re-design system accordingly
Engage with those who are struggling with feelings of isolation, bullying and artificial
barriers. Ensure HR support close by to help
Police promotion processes are still hopelessly out of touch with the private sector and use
officers of one rank above to assess their suitability
Recognise the hurt experienced by serving Black officers - by the overt and covert racism that
they face everyday - and yet are scared to challenge because the perception at the top is
that race is no longer an issue for the Met.
Do exit interviews that allow staff to say if they’ve seen or experienced racism… ensure
complaints involving racism are subject to independent scrutiny
Some comments about the continuing under-representation of BAME communities in the
police were very critical, if not angry:
Yvette Cooper recently heard evidence at the Home Affairs select committee about progress
in the last 20 years and describe it as "glacial". That's about right. BAME recruits into the
Met are still less likely to join, then stay, to be promoted; and are more likely to be accused
of misconduct, more likely to be found guilty, and more likely to receive harsh discipline than
White officers. Institutionally racist? I think so.
Thoughts on the police leadership required
Recommendations for police leaders are clear in many of the earlier themes, that is in
ensuring all officers can undertake respectful, professional stops; reducing
disproportionality by only using these with appropriate suspicion; and taking responsibility
themselves for any poor practice; ensuring better recruitment, retention and promotion of
BAME staff; facilitating community partnerships and preventive strategies. But in addition
to these, there were comments suggesting police leaders need to create a culture of
openness and transparency, to lead by example, and to embed the SLI recommendations
more strongly, responding vigorously and where possible, publicly to address problems
It has to start at the top - with people in positions of greatest power and influence in society:
- Language used; - Behaviour / Treatment of others; Evident values; - Decision-making (e.g.
government policy) making the decision to call people out
Look not only at recruiting Black officers but retention. What are the barriers to progression,
e.g. lack of Acting Up opportunities, secondments, mentoring? Are they still over disciplined?
Are senior officers trained to recognise barriers so they can remove them? Are there
incentives, e.g. work Appraisals that can lead to more resources if not higher pay for
showing positive achievements?
prepare leaders through ensuring historical corporate memory of successes and failures
And there were concerns about accountability at senior levels
There is a distinct lack of accountability at a senior level within the police service. In every
significant filing it is always the rank and file officers who take the blame…… How many
senior officers of Superintendent rank and above have been disciplined for significant failures
that happen under their watch.
A more powerful role for communities
Within each of the themes, there were comments about the role that the communities and
the BAME communities in particular, should play. And the point made repeatedly was that it
needed to be a more powerful one.
In relation to police advisory groups, and governance structures
The Police Crime Commissioner and MOPAC for London needs governance by inclusive
community groups to inform and guide policing
more officers from the ethnic minority in the department that investigates racism and
discrimination within the police
In relation to building community relations and working with the police, and being
resourced directly to do so
Real, meaningful community engagement by statutory providers. Less mainstream
community and voluntary organisations stealing the bread from Black beneficiaries.
Society has to learn that Black people are able to deliver for themselves and give them the
resources so they can get on with it.
In the role played by schools:
Curriculums need to change to include Black history as told by Black people. That includes
enslavement as part of the African experience not the start of our history.
And in delivering justice:
Restorative justice approaches led by the community, especially dealing with young people.
But above all, a change in mind set is required:
White privilege means that Black people are not seen as leaders. That has not changed. Even
in areas where we excel we are not allowed to go on to lead, e.g. even in football where are
the Black managers?
Responsibility beyond policing – societal approaches
Many comments also noted the problems of racism are evident across society, pervading
most institutions like education, healthcare, sports and even religion.
And that disproportionality is widely noted –
in school exclusion; unemployment; CJS outcomes; prison populations; in the incidence of
mental ill health; etc. Policing is faced with the real-life consequences of these things...
So the responses needed to often lie outside policing -
Young people need more opportunities… role models willing to give time…more job training,
and ‘safe spaces’.
Delegates reflected on how all of us need to play our part, for instance, in recognising and
reporting hate crime, and able to report racist crime anonymously in public places –
supermarkets, GP surgeries, one drawing delegates attention to an online portal already
DISCUSSION AND CONCLUSION
Our theme was to explore the level of trust and confidence in the police twenty years after
the SLI listed 70 recommended actions to achieve this, and to help galvanise more action to
improve this. No public service or profession can function without the trust of the public as
O’Neill (2002) so eloquently argues in her Reith lectures. She notes the continued media
coverage of a so-called deepening crisis of trust, and the many calls for greater
accountability of our public servants. “Remedies are proposed on all sides: politicians and
campaigning groups, academics and journalists advocate greater respect for human rights,
Fearless - provides a safe place to give information about crime - 100% anonymously.
higher standards of accountability and greater transparency. If these are really the remedies
for the crisis of trust, we should surely be seeing some results by now. On the contrary, the
accusations mount.” (O’Neill, 2002 lecture 1)
Our data confirm her pessimism. Overall, the comments analysed here do not indicate a
marked improvement in trust in the police service amongst minority ethnic communities as
represented at our event, and in fact suggest that some of the anger and hurt from past and
recent injustices is not going to be readily overcome despite the recognition of the issues by
the service, and the attempts to improve practice. That practice and policy has improved
since the SLI is clear, with many specific examples provided. But there also continue to be
many incidents still experienced as institutional racism which play larger in the minds of
many than do the improvements, and BAME recruitment remains well below target (Dodd,
2020). Recent examples beyond the police service will also no doubt add to such concerns –
in relation to the civil service enacting immigration policy (Williams 2020), and health status
during the Covid19 pandemic (Chaturvedi, 2020, Booth and Barr 2020).
Underpinning the numerous helpful practical suggestions put forward by participants on
how to improve the level of trust between minority communities and the police, were the
issues of status and respect. Many suggestions involved a shared role, as equals, in
reforming police practice, approaches to recruitment, and support to ensure retention and
promotion. One delegate used the word ‘co-production’ to describe what is needed, and
this seems to sum up many of these suggestions perfectly.
"public service organisations and citizens making better use of each other’s assets, resources and
contributions to achieve better outcomes or improve efficiency." Governance International
Similarly, the ideas of Allport (1954) reflect these concepts too - suggesting that prejudice is
reduced by greater contact - organization and community working together as equals
toward shared objectives, in community events, or a joint review of community safety,
reviewing local stop and search practice, even patrolling together, as done with Jewish
neighbourhoods by CST.
The term co-production has its origins in policing, when Ostrom (1977) examined why crime
rates went up in Chicago when police moved from street patrols to cars and found that the
all-important relationship between police and citizens had been lost. Of course, the themes
were developed well before this, in the principles of policing set out by Sir Robert Peel when
first establishing the Metropolitan Police Service in 1829. He emphasised that prevention of
crime and disorder should be their main priority, and that this requires the respect of the
public, their approval of police actions, a demonstrably impartial service, an understanding
that the police are the public, ordinary people paid to devote their time to the safety and
welfare of the community for which we all share some responsibility. Today we might
summarise several of these principles as providing, and visibly demonstrating the procedural
justice of the service.
Loefffler cites many examples since and today of successful co-production of public services,
though noting their rarity despite major benefits, particularly where services are challenged
financially. “Why does co-production matter in public services? Quite simply because it both
opens up new resources for public services, harnessing the strengths, assets and potential
contributions of citizens, and it provides new expertise on ways of achieving outcomes
which matter to citizens, based on experiences not available to service professionals.”
(Loeffler, 2017: 334)
Bovaird and colleagues (2019) emphasise the growing recognition of the value of co-
production by top management of a wide range of public sector organisations, both in the
UK and around the world, though noting the challenges in achieving this. Suggestions made
at our event might be described as seeking co-production, not only in building
relationships, visibility, and understanding in communities, but in working together to
improve the procedural justice of stop and search, and within the service, co-production
with Black officers to improve the actual and perceived procedural justice of the processes
of recruitment, retention and promotion of other Black officers.
At 10 years post SLI, writers remained optimistic, and could see that the legacy of Lawrence
had been transformative, not necessarily always in bringing completely new proposals
forward, but definitely in accelerating and shaping proposals that were already mooted
(Hall, Grieve and Savage, 2009). The overview by Commissioner Cressida Dick of progress in
tackling violent crime in 2019 (Mayor’s Office, 2019) makes a commitment to a preventative
approach, and the updated hate crime action plan from the Home Office, again echoes
many of the recommendations in the SLI report (HM Government, 2018). But the delegates
at our event do not feel that enough real progress has yet been made, and would hope that
they can accelerate and shape these intentions through a much stronger voice.
Time for leaders to fully implement the race equality duty in the police, to move from
information sharing and collaboration, and weak forms of partnership, to something much
closer to true co-production - in stop and search, community policing, and recruitment,
retention, and progression. Time too to revisit the SLI report 20 years on to ensure more of
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That a Ministerial Priority be established for all Police Services:
"To increase trust and confidence in policing amongst minority ethnic communities".
The process of implementing, monitoring and assessing the Ministerial Priority should
include Performance Indicators in relation to:
i. the existence and application of strategies for the prevention, recording,
investigation and prosecution of racist incidents;
ii. measures to encourage reporting of racist incidents;
iii. the number of recorded racist incidents and related detection levels;
iv. the degree of multi-agency co-operation and information exchange;
v. achieving equal satisfaction levels across all ethnic groups in public satisfaction
vi. the adequacy of provision and training of family and witness/victim liaison officers;
vii. the nature, extent and achievement of racism awareness training;
viii. the policy directives governing stop and search procedures and their outcomes;
ix. levels of recruitment, retention and progression of minority ethnic recruits; and
x. levels of complaint of racist behaviour or attitude and their outcomes.
The overall aim being the elimination of racist prejudice and disadvantage and the
demonstration of fairness in all aspects of policing.