Podium: A revolution in police attitudes

From a speech by the Director of the Metropolitan Police Diversity Strategy on institutional racism
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THIS SHOULD be a defining moment for society in race matters - but will it be?

The Stephen Lawrence case has been profoundly damaging, starkly highlighting the problematic relationship between the police and the black community that dates back (at least) to the Sixties. Unless the police service can change significantly and can rely on external support to produce and sustain that change, the damage could be irreparable.

The report of the inquiry has now provided us with an "official" definition of institutional racism which does not make all staff out to be racist and which, by pointing out the unconscious nature of much racism, avoids fatally undermining institutional credibility. It provides a new standard of institutional vigilance, translating the definition into specific personal responsibilities for staff to position themselves at the right of each of four spectra: Unwitting - Knowing; Ignorance - Awareness; Thoughtlessness - Thoughtfulness; Stereotyping - Treating people as individuals according to their needs.

Anti-racism in the Metropolitan Police will extend beyond general vigilance to focus not only on whether discrimination arises (unintentionally or otherwise); it will probe fully the reasons for different outcomes for different ethnic groups; and it will be alert to areas in which the significance of race may simply be overlooked. This approach is at the heart of our Diversity Strategy which we launched last September under the rallying cry of "Protect and Respect".

The Diversity Strategy already encompassed 32 of the 38 recommendations related to the police in the Lawrence report; and the early results are encouraging. Between the last quarter of 1997 and the same period in 1998: the reporting of racially motivated crime rose 101 per cent; 73 per cent more racially motivated crimes were solved; the arrest rate from stop searches at pilot sites rose from 12 per cent to 20 per cent, with similar rates for all ethnic groups.

So far, so good; but why the emerging divisions?

Partly, of course, they simply reflect the entrenched views of left and right. What's emerging in the much wider, middle ground, though, is about two things. It's an argument about the degree of the influence of racism; but it's also an issue of coming to terms with what is really going on in our society.

To meet the challenge of avoiding polarisation, we shall need to find ways of uniting around common ground; and I think there are two anchor points around which we can mobilise. The first is the professionalisation of policing; and the second is the application of the Convention of Human Rights.

With regard to the professionalisation of policing, a quiet revolution has been under way in recent years, leading to increasing specialisation - for example, in relation to child abuse. Among the areas where further improvement is urgently needed, the inquiry has also highlighted in particular:

Family liaison for victims of race crime (we need real expertise here, especially if families lack confidence or indeed are alienated by the police);

A real understanding in conducting investigations of the sensitivities around race and race matters;

A much more challenging approach to reviewing investigations that are not succeeding.

Will that professionalism, together with greater vigilance about racism, suffice for policing at the millennium? Probably not.

For example, an approach to stop and search aimed at eliminating any disproportionality between blacks and whites which is due to unfair discrimination might go some way to easing concerns - but it would not necessarily meet the tests of the European Convention on Human Rights which we are to embrace fully next year.

For the key principles of the Convention not only require the use of police powers to avoid discrimination; they test the real value of applying a power at all in some circumstances. This suggests that it may be necessary to consider whether stop and search is an appropriate tactic to deal with an identified crime problem.

In conclusion, I am confident that we can make significant progress in pursuing the unfinished revolution in policing and in the provision and protection of the rights of all our people. But it will require considerable resolve. Adaptation on this scale will not be painless by any means; yet, as Martin Luther King reminded us in 1967: "Nothing could be more tragic than for men to live in these revolutionary times and fail to achieve the new attitudes and the new mental outlooks that

the new situation demands."