More than 3,000 police officers are being investigated for alleged assault – with black and Asian people significantly more likely than white people to complain of police brutality, according to an Independent investigation.
Almost all of the officers under investigation for alleged violence against members of the public are still on the beat, with just 2 per cent suspended or put on restricted duties.
Campaigners said the figures exposed a culture of brutality and racism in the way some officers deal with ethnic minorities.
While British police have generally enjoyed a better reputation than their counterparts in the US, where allegations of racism have led to violent protests in Baltimore and Ferguson, there are concerns that some UK communities are losing trust in local officers.
According to figures obtained under Freedom of Information requests by The Independent, the Metropolitan Police and West Midlands Police – forces responsible for policing the most ethnically diverse parts of the UK – account for almost half the 3,082 officers under investigation for alleged assault around the country.
Black and minority ethnic people make up one in three of London’s population but represent 55 per cent of alleged victims of brutality by Met officers. The disparity is even worse in the West Midlands where nearly half of assault complaints against police come from black or Asian people – though just 14 per cent of the population is black or ethnic minority. This means black and Asian people are 3.5 times more likely to allege assault by officers.
Desmond Jaddoo, founder of Birmingham Empowerment Forum, said the relationship between police and the black community was one of “oppressor and oppressed”. He said: “Trust and confidence in the police is still at its lowest. I’m not anti-police. The problem is some officers are abusing their power.”
Of the 146 ongoing police assault investigations in the West Midlands where ethnicity is recorded, 71 complainants are white (49 per cent) and 69 black or Asian (47.5 per cent). In six cases the ethnicity is labelled “other”. Another 83 cases are being investigated where ethnicity is not recorded. The figures represent further embarrassment for a force which recruited just one black officer last month among 162 new recruits.
In total 450 West Midlands Police officers are being investigated and five have been suspended. Tippa Naphtali, a community activist in Birmingham, said: “Some officers have it in their heads that any black person, regardless of size, is going to be violent and their response coincides with that in terms of levels of brutality or restraint they use.”
The Met currently has 1,185 officers on full duty even though they are under investigation regarding 714 alleged assault cases. Ethnicity of the complainant has been recorded in 443 cases. Of these 191 (43 per cent) alleged victims are white and 243 (55 per cent) black or Asian.
In 33 additional cases, 28 Met officers are on restricted duties and five more suspended following assault allegations. In 10 cases the ethnicity was not recorded and of the remaining 23 cases white complainants account for 10 (43.5 per cent) and black and Asian 13 (56.5 per cent).
The figures raise further questions for the Met, which was branded “institutionally racist” by Sir William Macpherson in 1999 following his report on the failings that led the killers of Stephen Lawrence to escape justice.
The force, which has around 31,000 officers, has been dogged by the same claims ever since, most recently in the case of former firearms officer Carol Howard. She was awarded £37,000 at an employment tribunal last year having been targeted in a “malicious” and “vindictive” campaign of race and sex discrimination.
A spokeswoman for the Met said the “vast majority” of its officers carry out their duties “with professionalism and courtesy”. She said: “The MPS treats each occasion when an allegation is made about a member of its staff extremely seriously and will fully investigate each incident. Where the conduct of staff is proven to have fallen below the standards of behaviour expected, the MPS will take robust action to ensure that its staff are appropriately disciplined and that lessons are learnt.”
But the spokeswoman added: “The Commissioner has recognised that there remains a risk that the MPS is still institutionally racist in some of what it does because there remain elements of disproportionality, despite significant progress over many years.”
Problems also exist beyond the capital. The Bedfordshire PCs Christopher Pitts and Christopher Thomas have been suspended on full pay since March last year over their detention of Faruk Ali, a 33-year-old man with learning difficulties. The pair were cleared of criminal charges but remain subject to an Independent Police Complaints Commission investigation.
Next Wednesday is the second anniversary of a separate incident outside a Bedford nightclub that left a young athlete, Julian Cole, paralysed and brain-damaged. The IPCC is still investigating and asked Bedfordshire Police to suspend six officers connected the incident, but it refused. The officers deny wrongdoing.
The London Campaign against Police and State Violence is organising a “Black Lives Matter” protest outside the US embassy on Tuesday called “From Bedford to Baltimore”. It said the “solidarity vigil” was being held “to stand with the family and friends of victims of police violence in Baltimore and also victims of police brutality in the UK”.
The Independent obtained the figures after sending Freedom of Information requests to all 45 UK police forces. Of the forces that responded at least 3,082 officers are being investigated. West Midlands Police declined to comment.