Police anti-racism training 'can do more harm than good'

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The Independent Online

Diversity training designed to root racism out of the police does "more harm than good" in some cases, the author of a long-awaited report on the problem said today.

Former director of public prosecutions Sir David Calvert-Smith said the training was seen by some officers - including some of those responsible for providing it - as a "politically correct" add-on, which turned them off the idea of ethnic diversity.

Speaking ahead of the publication of the Commission for Racial Equality's investigation into forces in England and Wales, Sir David said that six years after the report into the death of Stephen Lawrence, "institutional racism" was still a problem in the police.

Some senior officers were "pretty poor managers" and believed that they need pay only lip-service to the need for racial equality, while some recruits were joining the police in order to bully people, he said.

The CRE report was commissioned in October 2003 in the wake of the BBC documentary The Secret Policeman, which highlighted racist behaviour among police recruits in several forces.

Last June, the CRE's interim report concluded that diversity training for police officers may have simply driven discrimination underground and created a new breed of "stealth racist".

Sir David told BBC Radio 4's Today programme today: "We found that although there had been great strides made in some areas within the police service since the Lawrence report, there are still areas which need substantial improvement in order to create the kind of multi-ethnic police force we need to police a multi-ethnic society."

Ethnic diversity training was "seen by many officers, and even by some of those who delivered the training, as a kind of politically-correct injection, rather than being integrated into the work of policing", he said.

"In some instances, it did more harm than good. It actually turned people off the idea."

Asked whether Sir William Macpherson's allegation of "institutional racism" in the Lawrence report still applied, Sir David said on the Today programme: "There are areas of the police service in which that phrase could probably still be used".

"I think that cultures do take a long time to change," he said. "There are still, I'm afraid, a number of people at middle management level who think - wrongly, I hope - that their bosses are mouthing political correctness, but not actually believing it, and that it is perfectly OK for them to go on behaving in the same sorts of ways that they always have."

Chief constables had to "relentlessly reiterate" the racial equality message in order to get it through to their officers, said Sir David.

He suggested that promotions should in future be awarded in part on the basis of officers' ability to lead an ethnically diverse team.

"There are excellent managers in the police service, but there are also some pretty poor ones and the way in which managers are selected and trained in one of the issues we address," he said.

"We would like to see more of a focus on being able to lead a team, get on with people and encourage them, rather than sheer operational excellence.

"Perhaps too often in the past people have been promoted because they are very good policemen in the field and not so much because they had the skills to get on with a diverse team."

New, more sophisticated strategies have been introduced to police training schools to root out the kind of overt racism seen in the BBC documentary, said Sir David.

The chances of recruits being caught out in explicitly racist comments were now "much less" than at the time of filming.

But he added: "Unfortunately, you will never get rid of recruits who want to join the service in order to bully people and a number of those will want to bully black people."

Today's report recommends changes to be made at every level of police activity, from recruitment to training, complaints and governance, in order to imbue forces with a commitment to racial equality.

CRE chairman Trevor Phillips said he would be writing to 14 chief constables and the chairmen of eight police authorities, telling them to improve their race equality schemes.

Failure to do so would lead to legal action and possibly an enforcement order, he said.

If the forces concerned failed to act on such an order, it could lead to a very large fine or even to a jail term for the chief constable concerned, although Mr Phillips added that this was unlikely.

Commenting ahead of today's publication, Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo) spokesman and Cheshire Chief Constable Peter Fahy said: "Only our harshest critics would fail to acknowledge the progress made since the Stephen Lawrence report.

"Acpo believes the police service has made real progress on such issues as the investigation of racist crime, with a significant increase in the number of convictions, in the way critical incidents such as racist murders are handled and in the work carried out to strengthen community relations and cohesion during a time of great tension following September 11."

He added: "Ethnic minority communities are not asking for special treatment from the police service.

"They want to be protected from crime, disorder and harassment, they want a professional standard of service, officers known and visible to local people and a service that keeps its promises.

"The creation of long-term trust between police and local communities, however, will only come from establishing clear standards of service and delivering on those standards, and from the police service's commitment to roll out local neighbourhood policing teams across the country."