Jail threat for police chiefs who fail to combat racism

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The Independent Online

Fourteen chief constables will be warned today that they face jail unless they act to stamp out racism in their forces.

In what was described as a "critical test" for the Government's new race relations legislation, Trevor Phillips, the chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality (CRE), will put the senior officers on notice, along with the heads of eight police authorities, telling them they must respond or face being brought before the courts.

The move follows the publication of a damning interim report into police racism by the former director of public prosecutions, Sir David Calvert-Smith QC, ordered in the wake of the BBC's Panorama documentary "The Secret Policeman", which led to the resignations of nine officers.

Mr Phillips said: "The time for chat and discussion and understanding is over. We have a law and all people have to do is obey it."

Failure to respond to an enforcement order could bring chief constables into contempt of court, which carries a maximum sentence of two years in jail or a £2,500 fine.

The CRE report examined 15 unnamed forces and five authorities - only one of whose racial equality schemes came up to scratch. The commission also found that three of the 43 police authorities in England and Wales had failed to enact a scheme at all.

The Race Relations Act was amended after Sir William Macpherson's report into the murder investigation of the black teenager Stephen Lawrence, which found the Metropolitan Police to be "institutionally racist". As a result all public bodies are now required to end discrimination and promote racial equality.

Police forces and authorities are required by law to have in place an effective race equality scheme. They will have 21 days to explain to Mr Phillips their plans to comply with the law. If they fail to do so they will be given 90 days to act.

Campaigners immediately welcomed the move. Imran Khan, the solicitor who represented the Lawrence family, said police had been dragging their feet for too long in complying with the new anti-discrimination rules. "This is a critical test for the CRE and the legislation," he said. "My big fear when the legislation was introduced was that people wouldn't take it seriously because the CRE couldn't enforce every public authority. There have been too many people in the police have wanted to see the back of this. But it is only when you take action that you start getting change."

The report, which examined recruitment, training and disciplinary procedures, also heard evidence from officers who feared that diversity training was driving discrimination underground. Witnesses said it was creating "stealth racists" able to "cover their backs" in the post-Macpherson era.

Racist officers learnt how to operate undetected by assimilating acceptable language codes while others merely treated diversity training as a "big joke", the report said.

Among the most damning findings were that ethnic minority officers felt they were bullied by white instructors during their probationary training. They said there was a "bar culture" which "reinforced macho and anti-diversity attitudes".

This was felt most keenly among Muslims and other groups who do not drink alcohol or who refused to get involved in heavy drinking.

One Asian probationer described how he was regularly left without a partner during group work with his all-white class and had curry splashed on his bedroom door. It was claimed that police tutors were hostile to diversity training. One trainee said one instructor at a police training college told his class: "You've done the diversity. That's a load of b***s. Now let's get on with the real stuff."

The report also unearthed disturbing evidence that measures to weed out racist applicants to the police were actually leading to more ethnic minorities being rejected on race and diversity grounds than whites.

Home Office data showed 42 per cent of Chinese applicants were rejected. Similarly, 34 per cent of blacks and 33 per cent of Asians were rejected, compared with 23 per cent of whites.

The effectiveness of the training was also questioned with evidence that many police officers did not even understand the term "institutional racism". One officer claimed never to have heard of the Lawrence report.

Matt Baggott, Chief Constable of Leicestershire and spokesman for the Association of Chief Police Officers, said: "There are real opportunities to tighten both the content and oversight of race equality schemes and the effectiveness of recruitment training and misconduct processes."

Stage two of the inquiry, which will report in January next year, will make concrete recommendations to end the culture of racism, the report's authors said.