He told a hearing of the Stephen Lawrence inquiry in Bradford yesterday that his force was "not inherently racist" but stop-and-search figures indicated subliminal prejudice by officers, while minority ethnic communities lacked confidence in the commitment of police to investigate racial crime.
The inquiry team, chaired by Sir William Macpherson of Cluny, was visiting Bradford as part of its quest for lessons to be learnt from Stephen's racist murder. The city has a large Asian population and is viewed as a barometer of multi-cultural Britain. In the 1980s the council clashed with Ray Honeyford, a former headmaster, over policies such as serving halal meat in schools. Militant Muslims burnt Salman Rushdie's The Satanic Verses in 1989.
In summer 1995 Asian youths in the inner-city area of Manningham vented their frustration on police during two nights of rioting and looting.
Community leaders told yesterday's hearing that Asians still suffered from discriminatory policing. Ateeq Saddique, of the Bradford Race Equality Council, said in one case there was a 10-day delay before officers investigated a complaint of racial harassment against a Pakistani family living on a mainly white council estate.
On another occasion, the family telephoned police to tell them a bottle of urine had been tossed through the door of their grocery shop. The female officer who took the call allegedly told them: "At least it wasn't petrol. You're not going to burn in your beds."
Mohammad Taj, a trade unionist who produced an independent report on the Manningham riots, said little had changed. "In the past three years I have been given so many and such detailed, lucid accounts of racist behaviour of racist police officers that, even if 99 per cent of them were complete ... liars, it would still indicate a police service absolutely riddled with racism."
Mr Clarke said West Yorkshire's stop-and-search figures - showing blacks are four times more likely to be stopped than whites, and Asians twice as likely - caused concern. Moreover, the fact that only 20 to 30 percent of racist crimes were reported to police suggested "we don't have the full confidence of minority ethnic communities". While the racist culture of the police reflected society, they had to be at the forefront in tackling the problem. Mohammed Ajeeb, deputy leader of Bradford City Council, said: "Third and fourth generations of blacks and Asians are not going to submit meekly to discrimination. They expect equal treatment ... at all levels."
The inquiry reconvenes in Bristol on 3 November.