David Wilmot, head of the second-largest force in England and Wales, made the declaration at a hearing of the Stephen Lawrence inquiry in Manchester. His attitude was in stark contrast to that of Sir Paul Condon, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, who steadfastly refused to recognise institutional racism within the Met when he appeared before the inquiry two weeks ago.
Mr Wilmot told the public inquiry: "We live in a society that has institutional racism, and Greater Manchester Police is no exception. We accept that we have a problem with some overt racism, and certainly that we have a problem with internalised racism."
Sir William Macpherson of Cluny, the inquiry chairman, responded with an oblique but unmistakable criticism of Sir Paul. "There is a reluctance to accept that it is there, which means that it will probably never be cured," he said.
Manchester was the inquiry's first stop on a regional tour aimed at taking the temperature in racially sensitive cities outside London and identifying lessons to be learnt from the Met's abortive investigation of the racist murder of Stephen Lawrence, an 18-year-old student, in 1993.
Manchester's large Afro-Caribbean and Asian communities suffer a high level of racial crime and harassment - an estimated 21,000 become victims each year - and have a history of chequered relations with the police.
Mr Wilmot is the first chief constable to have acknowledged institutional racism within his own force.
While most people in Greater Manchester Police were committed to eradicating racism, Mr Wilmot said, unconscious bigotry still affected the way officers dealt with individuals and situations, and there was "still some way to go in respect of the so-called canteen culture".
His words were welcomed by Neville Lawrence, Stephen's father, who attended the hearing. "I would like to know if Sir Paul is prepared to look again at his position," he said.
Chief Inspector Martin Harding, the most senior black police officer with Greater Manchester Police, said he was "delighted" at Mr Wilmot's comments."I am delighted that he has now come forward and admitted that racism exists in GMP. Before anything could be done to improve the situation it has to be admitted that there is a problem and I'm very pleased he's done that."
His determination to stamp out racism only grabbed headlines after he condemned racist jokes made by Bernard Manning at a police charity night and boycotted the comic's act at an official dinner.
The inquiry reconvenes in east London tomorrow.Reuse content