Avon and Somerset Police ‘institutionally racist’, chief constable says
Avon and Somerset Police is institutionally racist, according to the force’s chief constable.
Chief Constable Sarah Crew said she was in “no doubt” that the force was institutionally racist according to the criteria in Baroness Casey’s damning review into the Metropolitan Police.
In a statement, Ms Crew said she recognised issues around race, sexism and homophobia at the force which she said were perhaps not as stark as in other forces but “here none-the-less”.
A report in 2022 showed how officers from the force interacted differently with people from different ethnic and racial backgrounds, particularly those from black communities.
It’s been a stark reminder for policing as a whole that the need for real and profound change is essential if we’re to retain the public’s trust and confidence
Ms Crew said the force had been discussing how it could become an “anti-racist police service”, which had identified “the courageous steps” that must be taken to make this happen.
She described Baroness Casey’s review into the Met, which was published in March, as another catalyst for Avon and Somerset Police.
“It’s been a stark reminder for policing as a whole that the need for real and profound change is essential if we’re to retain the public’s trust and confidence,” Ms Crew said.
“I recognise the issues around race, sexism and homophobia at Avon and Somerset Police.
“Perhaps not as stark as we’ve seen elsewhere, but they are here none-the-less. Since the publication of the review, I’ve been encouraging conversations and debate within my organisation, more specifically around institutional racism.
“When it comes to race, I’m in no doubt that, by Baroness Casey’s criteria at least, Avon and Somerset Police is institutionally racist.”
Four tests to identify institutional racism are set out in the Casey review.
The first is that there are racists and people with racist attitudes within the organisation, with the second being that staff experience racism at work and it is routinely ignored, dismissed or not spoken about.
The third is that racism and racial bias are reinforced within system, with the fourth stating that the force under-protects and over-polices people with black heritage.
Ms Crew said: “I must accept that the definition fits.
“I think it’s likely to be true for misogyny, homophobia and disability as well, though the gaps in the data don’t give us the sense of scale, impact or certainty that we have for race.”
She stressed she was not talking about what was in the “hearts and minds” of most people who work at the force, rather structural and institutional barriers that exist within it.
As for the few who do demonstrate attitudes and behaviours which are racist or discriminatory, we remain on a mission to root them out
Ms Crew said it was “no longer good enough” to simply not be racist, be a bystander and do nothing, which was being part of a system that disadvantaged one group of people over another.
“As for the few who do demonstrate attitudes and behaviours which are racist or discriminatory, we remain on a mission to root them out – they shouldn’t be in policing, and we don’t want them here,” she added.
Ms Crew’s comments were welcomed by campaigners but the Police Federation said it disagreed with them.
Mark Loker, chair of Avon and Somerset Police Federation, said claims of institutional racism should be “subject to robust assessment and evidence”.
“I contend that by our chief declaring Avon and Somerset as ‘institutionally racist’ this will create a false narrative and actually drive a divide between our officers and the communities this is intended to assist,” Mr Loker said.
“I fully agree that policing should be anti-racism. Racism has no place in a modern society, it is singularly divisive.”
We do not always get it right. But, in the absence of any data that supports this position and states that we are ‘institutionally racist’, this is nothing more than virtue signalling
He added: “I agree that it is no longer acceptable to be a passive bystander, to observe racist behaviour and to do nothing, but if this declaration is to promote confidence in our black and ethnic minority communities, what does it actually do?
“It does not, in my view, promote brave conversations, it in fact stunts any conversation and becomes a label, nothing more.
“We do not always get it right. But, in the absence of any data that supports this position and states that we are ‘institutionally racist’, this is nothing more than virtue signalling.”
But Dr Wanda Wyporska, chief executive of Black Equity Organisation, described Ms Crew’s comments as an important first step in the fight to dismantle structural racism.
“The admission by Sarah Crew is a welcome first step in the fight to ensure that all communities are policed fairly and that the structures that support racism, misogyny and homophobia are dismantled,” Dr Wyporska said.
Dr Wyporska called on chief constables across the country to “follow the example set by Avon and Somerset Police and Police Scotland, and admit that their forces are institutionally racist”.
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