Lawrence Report: Prospect of a force for the community

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The Independent Online
MASSIVE CHANGES will sweep through the police service, transforming daily working practices and how officers deal with race crimes.

If the reforms announced yesterday take hold, black and Asian officers will be seen in every city and town, individuals who suffer racist policing can sue, and discriminatory stop and searches will cease.

The fallout from the Lawrence affair has thrust racism to the top of the reform agenda. Sir Paul Condon admitted yesterday that the changes stemming from the inquiry "will mean doing things very differently from the way we responded in 1993".

Police chiefs - most noticeably at New Scotland Yard - have been falling over themselves to introduce anti-racist initiatives over the past year, although some campaigners, who say the notorious police "canteen culture" is still very much alive and kicking, believe a total overhaul is needed. At the Yard, John Grieve has been given the Herculean task of convincing the public, and fellow officers, that "nicking racists" is a top priority.

His new racial and violent crime task force will adapt a tactic he developed as head of the anti-terrorist branch.

"In the same way we made the environment in London hostile for terrorists we want to extend that to racists," he said. "My job is to nick racists and change the culture."

The Deputy Assistant Commissioner predicts that a new form of accountability will be "forged from the fire of the Lawrence inquiry".

He says one way to change the canteen culture is to involve officers more deeply in the investigation of racism. This forces them to discard "discriminatory and prejudicial thoughts".

The Yard's new strategy is outlined in its policy document Operation Spectrum. The anti-racist initiatives include the use of DNA testing, paid informants, and undercover police officers. Officers will also mount "sting" operations to catch race-hate criminals. Black officers will be used to trap racist colleagues. Racist pupils and teachers in schools, universities and colleges will be targeted.

Tactics include placing a plain-clothes Asian officer outside a football ground and arresting people who racially abuse him.

Since Mr Grieve took over in August more than 400 people have been charged with racially motivated crimes. Last July there were 62 charges, in November 141. Tackling racism within the police is "very difficult" and a gradual process, he believes, but he points to the doubling in the number of black and Asian Met recruits to 873 and the increasing number in high-ranking posts.

He admits non-whites are still greatly under-represented and there are difficulties in retaining ethnic minority officers. Only 2 per cent of the police service in England and Wales - 2,483 - are from ethnic minorities.

The reforms announced yesterday by the Home Secretary include setting targets for recruitment, retention and promotion of ethnic minority police and civilian staff. A figure of 7 per cent is expected, although previous pledges to increase ethnic recruitment have been largely ignored.

The most fundamental change, and one of the most important announced yesterday, is extension of the 1976 Race Relations Act to cover police. This will allow individuals to take legal action against a force if they act in a racist or discriminatory way, which means police may have to pay hundreds of thousands of pounds in compensation - there is no limit on the size of payments for discrimination.

An individual would have to show that people in a different racial group would have been treated differently in similar circumstances.

That means the black motorist, whose private legal action failed earlier this year after he was allegedly stopped and searched 34 times by the West Midlands Police, would have a better chance of success in court.

Legal experts believe it would not be necessary to prove police officers involved had intended to be racist, simply that discrimination resulted from their actions.

The reforms will cover prison staff, the immigration service, and local government officers. The Commission for Racial Equality would be empowered to launch investigations of police action.

Other initiatives include an immediate inspection of the Metropolitan Police by HM Inspectorate of Constabulary, with a thorough scrutiny of unsolved murders.

And from April new internal rules will ease and speed the sacking of bad officers.

Jason Bennetto

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