Police in new drive to weed out racist officers

Racist police are escaping punishment because of flaws in the internal disciplinary system, a report by an independent complaints body suggests.

The Police Complaints Authority (PCA) has drawn up a new set of guidelines to ensure more thorough and effective investigation of officers accused of racial discrimination.

Under the present system, officers accused of some forms of racism can avoid further investigation or censure by simply denying it. Fewer than one in six complaints of racism investigated by the authority result in punishment, compared with about one in four for other categories where people have complained of police misconduct.

In the year to April 2002, just eight officers were disciplined for racial discrimination, compared with 24 the previous year. Police unions say part of the reason is that officers are more aware of, and sensitive to, issues of race.

The tougher investigative techniques include looking for patterns of racist behaviour rather than one-off incidents. Among cases of racism highlighted by the authority were an incident in which two officers on routine patrol stopped a car. While questioning the black driver, one officer told him: "You'd better sort your attitude out or you'll be sitting on your arse, you black bastard." In interview, the officer denied using a racist remark. The police recommended no action be taken but the PCA held a hearing. The officer was found guilty of misconduct and fined. The second officer was cautioned for failing to challenge him.

In another case, a black man said an officer called him a "jungle bunny". The officer said he had known the complainant by that name for years and it was not racist. In interview, the officer said he had not had racial awareness training. He was given a verbal warning from his divisional commander and ordered to take the training.