Upsurge in complaints of police violence: Allegations of racism rise fourfold

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ALLEGATIONS of killings, serious violence and racist behaviour by police officers have risen dramatically, the Police Complaints Authority said yesterday.

The rise in such complaints to their highest levels, disclosed in the authority's annual report, will come as a blow to chief constables, particularly those striving to improve relations with members of the ethnic minorities in the inner cities.

At a press conference to launch the authority's 1993 report, Sir Leonard Peach, its chairman, said the 25 per cent increase in serious complaints against the police - from 757 to 951 - was due to an upsurge of 52 per cent in allegations of death or injury at the hands of the police. These formed more than 90 per cent of the total.

This was despite a slight drop in the total of number of serious cases referred to the authority.

Sir Leonard could not say why the rise had occurred. 'It is possible that borderline injuries are being pushed into the category of serious by police surgeons. But it could be a reflection of a more violent society and the fact that police forces are reporting more attacks on their officers.'

The authority is to conduct research into the reasons why the number of allegations of racially discriminatory behaviour has risen almost fourfold, from 67 in 1992 to 291 last year. Only about a dozen complaints led to disciplinary action, below the 10 per cent average for other types of complaint; just four - two of racial abuse and two of racial discrimination - were proved.

Sir Leonard said the reasons could be a combination of greater awareness of the complaints system and more accurate recording; such complaints have only been recorded separately since 1990. 'There may also be a greater unwillingness to accept racially offensive behaviour.'

The authority will also begin to record the ethnic origin of complainants.

But the body was criticised by Jeff Crawford, a former member who retired last year. Mr Crawford, from Barbados, questioned why it had taken the authority nine years to confront the issue. 'During my period, the authority suffered from inertia and apathy in relation to dealing with allegations of racially discriminatory behaviour by police. There is still no training for its members on racial awareness,' he said.

The Commission for Racial Equality said there should be more investigation into whether the number of complaints had risen because of more incidents or because of more reporting.

During the year, the authority considered the results of 10,916 disciplinary investigations, 18 per cent fewer than in 1992 and authorised action in about 10 per cent. Twenty-seven of the supervised cases led to one or more officers being charged.