Black actors confuse police trainees

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Hundreds of police officers are to be given a second chance to take promotion examinations after failing because they were unable to deal with black actors pretending to be traffic wardens.

The 13 ethnic minority actors who took part in the national examinations were told last week their role was being axed. But the Home Office announced last night that it was reversing the decision and that the exams using black people would continue.

An organisation representing black officers yesterday said the affair was very worrying and raised wider issues about police attitudes to race.

The controversy follows last year's sergeants' exams which used black actors for the first time - about half the 3,200 tests involved black actors in one exercise. The Police Promotions Examinations Board decided to drop the practice after a psychologist told them officers had performed better when dealing with white actors and that this may be because race was confusing them.

The Home Office and police associations yesterday criticised the move by the official training body, even though their representatives were on the board that made the original decision to stop using black actors.

The board had written in the past few weeks to the 13 actors involved to say they would not be used in the practical part of the examinations so that the exercises could be "standardised".

It followed a survey of the previous year's results by an occupational psychologist who found there were "significant differences in performance" by those candidates who had to deal with black actors and those who had white actors. The board decided that many officers believed the examination was to test equal opportunities skills, rather than their knowledge of road laws.

As a result, the board decided to scrap the results of that section of the exam and give all officers who failed another chance. This will affect about 800 of the officers who failed.

Leroy Logan, of the Black Police Association, said yesterday: "While we agree that there is some merit in the findings of the psychologist we would argue that the real issue here is the apparent inability of some candidates to relate to black people without seeing colour as the issue.

"If this is happening in the controlled situation of an exam, then how might their perceptions be translated in real operational situations?"

A spokeswoman for the Home Office said: "It was a misguided attempt to standardise the examinations. It is clearly unacceptable. Steps are being taken to reverse the decision and reinstate the ethnic minority role players." Spokesmen for the Association of Chief Police Officers and the Police Federation welcomed the decision to overturn the move. However, there remains confusion about who authorised the original policy when the Home Office, Federation and Acpo all have members on the board.

The head of the Police Promotions Examinations Unit in Harrogate, Superintendent Glenn Hutton, acknowledged that there had been a "hiccup" in its procedures. but he said it was a misunderstanding about how the exam system worked.