Labour backs positive discrimination to close racial gap in policing | UK news

The racial imbalance that has existed in policie forces needs a radical change in the law to allow positive discrimination in favour of ethnic minority recruits, Labour has said.

New research shows the “race gap” in policing has grown in the last two decades and Labour’s policing spokesperson, Louise Haigh MP, said the move was needed to make police forces less white and speed up the “glacial” pace of change.

Haigh’s comments marked the 21st anniversary of the landmark Stephen Lawrence inquiry report into policing and racial justice. Sir William Macpherson’s report investigated the failings in the 1993 Metropolitan police hunt for the racist killers of black student Stephen Lawrence.

The report found the Met to be institutionally racist and led to a phalanx of recommendations, including that police forces should have the same proportion of ethnic minority officers in their ranks as the minorities in the communities they police. Forces were given a decade to hit the target, but not one did, and not one has since the expiration of the deadline either.

Haigh said the race gap in policing was still too large and the Conservative government’s plans to recruit 20,000 extra officers within three years was a rare opportunity to make the ranks less disproportionately white. Police chiefs agree, the disagreement is about how.

Haigh said: “The government recruitment campaign represents a clear opportunity to address the lack of progress on targets set 21 years ago.

“It is the only opportunity to address the enormous imbalance in the police compared to their communities. Cuts to neighbourhood policing have taken the police even further away from the communities, and it is even more urgent now that it was 10 years ago.

“What is being lost is the presence in communities and relationship with the communities.

“It leads to a more reactive style of police service which leads to a more distant relationship and more conflict.”

Positive discrimination is currently illegal. Police have previously been in favour of it, but it was opposed by Labour and then Conservative governments.

A form of it was used for the Police Service of Northern Ireland and helped lessen Protestant dominance of the force.

The largest gap is in Britain’s largest force, the Metropolitan police, which covers London – a region with a 43% ethnic minority population, while its police force has only 14% ethnic minority officers.

The Met’s own internal estimates say it could be nearly a century away from its goal. Haigh said:“The pace of change is so glacial the Metropolitan police will still be disproportionately white for another 100 years at this rate of change.

“We still have not reached those targets 21 years later. Diversity has fallen away among senior police leaders both on race and gender. There’s only been one ethnic minority police and crime commissioner and there’s only ever been one ethnic minority chief constable.

“The police need to do better at recruiting from all communities and need to be reflective of their communities.”

New research commissioned by Labour showed that when the police last continuously grew from 2000 to 2009, the race gap in English and Welsh forces which were using positive action, grew, from 4.9% to 6.9%.

In Northern Ireland which used a form of positive discrimination, Catholic representation massively increased from 8% in 2001 to 30% in 2011.

That gap has also grown since 2000, the year after the Macpherson report was published. In 2000, around 2.3% of officers were from ethnic minorities compared to 7.2% of the population in England and Wales, a gap of 4.9%.

In 2019 the percentage of ethnic minority officers was 6.9%, but the ethnic population had doubled to 14.5%, a gap of 7.6%.

Haigh said: “If it is the best they can achieve under the current framework then they need to have firm targets written into legislation.”

Analysis commissioned by the Guardian last year showed police were decades away from looking like their communities. With the proportion of Britain’s ethnic minority population increasing, the gap could get bigger.

Asked if police were still institutionally racist, Haigh said:“I think society is racist, and the criminal justice system is still turning out disproportionate outcomes for ethnic minority people, so yes I think there is a problem with disproportionate outcomes and racism across the criminal justice system.

“It’s time we took proper action on this.”

Ian Hopkins, the National Police Chiefs Council lead for workforce representation, said the chiefs would not be asking for positive discrimination: “A substantial uplift in officer numbers gives us a generational opportunity to increase the diversity of our workforce.

“A number of forces are having considerable success in attracting new talent into policing through positive action. Therefore we are currently focusing on maximising the benefits of positive action rather than calling for a change in law required to move to positive discrimination.”

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