Police body's anti-racism `insensitive'

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The Independent Online
BLACK POLICE officers reacted with fury yesterday to an "inappropriate and insensitive" anti-racist poster campaign launched by the Police Federation. The Black Police Association boycotted the launch and said the campaign, which deliberately uses shock tactics, could backfire by offending many black and Asian people.

The posters, to be displayed at police stations, show images of black and Asian people with racially stereotypical slogans.

One shows a black man with the question: "Been Mugged?" Underneath the picture is the advice: "Tell him - he's a police officer". Another reads: "What do you call a black man in a BMW? - A police sergeant on patrol." A third poster shows an Asian woman with the slogan: "Open All Hours?". A smaller caption reads: "The Police Service has to be".

The association also at-tacked the timing of the initiative, which comes amid a national race terror campaign and less than two months after the Stephen Lawrence inquiry report concluded that the police service was "institutionally racist". Inspector Paul Wilson, the chairman, said: "We have not got a problem with the message. It's the messenger. The Police Federation has a very poor image with the black community. During the Stephen Lawrence inquiry it was most intransigent, defensive and adversarial."

Inspector Wilson added: "Do we really need a poster campaign depicting racial stereotypes produced by, of all people, the Police Federation."

But speaking at the launch of the pounds 30,000 campaign, the Police Federation's chairman, Fred Broughton, described the initiative as "a ground-breaking step". He said that the police service was "confused and divided" over race relations. The posters would challenge passive racism and reassure ethnic minority communities.

"Our reputation has suffered, we must restore confidence," he said. "Black and Asian police officers and minority communities need reassurance. They remain to be convinced that we mean what we say about fairness."

Mr Broughton said he realised that the posters would be seen as "provocative" and accepted they may not be well-received by all black and Asian people. "Whatever you think of them, like them or loathe them, they will generate interest, generate controversy and generate discussion," he said.

Mr Broughton said the federation had informed black and Asian community leaders of the content of the campaign and been given "no negative vibes".

The four people featured in the posters are not police officers but a professional basketball player, a dancer, an actor and a medical student. Real black officers were not used in the pictures because such a high- profile campaign could limit their chances of working undercover later in their careers, Mr Broughton said.

He said he was "disappointed" that the association had declined an invitation to attend the launch but said the two organisations had been holding regular talks in the past six months on race issues.

Less than 2 per cent of the 125,000 police officers who are in the federation come from minority communities.

Bob Purkiss, chairman of the legal committee of the Commission for Racial Equality, said he understood the association's concerns but still welcomed the campaign. "The `do nothing' option was not on the table," he said. "[The Police Federation] are trying to address their collective failure in the past." Mr Purkiss said that to have delayed the campaign launch because of the nail bombings in would have sent "the wrong message".

t The Chief Constable of Merseyside, Norman Bettison, admitted yesterday that his force was "institutionally racist" after spending six months gathering evidence on bigotry in the ranks.

Mr Bettison said a new task force had been set up to re-investigate more than 300 cases in which race had been an issue and he hinted that a number of officers could be sacked for their racist views.