Headlines: June 22nd, 2004

Police forces still have no common understanding of ‘institutional racism’ five years after the MacPherson report raised questions about the management of race relations in the service.A report today also shows there is a strong view among black police associations that open racism
has given way to a covert form in the post-MacPherson era.

The findings come in a report of research sponsored by the Economic and Social research Council as part of Social Science Week. The study by Professor Simon Holdaway, of the University of Sheffield, found that chief officers and the chairs of local black police associations often had ‘different ideas in mind’ when they referred to or discussed institutional racism. For officers from ethnic minority groups racism is lodged in a collective memory that cannot be easily removed by current policies and practices.

Professor Holdaway, who is a former Metropolitan Police officer, studied black police associations operating in most of Britain’s 43 forces and found that members had moved on from being police officers who happened to be black to being black officers who were members of black police associations. His research includes the first analysis of the emergence of a shared awareness of racial prejudice and discrimination, which is bringing minority officers into new relationships within the workforce.

The report says most of those surveyed agreed that their forces were institutionally racist. Chief officers tended to point to such things as the outcome of policies and under-representation of ethnic minorities while chairs of black police associations drew on personal experiences of racism, sometimes in the distant past. It found that covert racism included lack of effort to recommend someone for training, a view that white officers used racist language when ethnic minority colleagues were not around and furtive gazes or a sense of unease in the presence of a white officer. In some cases, there was a concern that chief officers’ support for black police associations was no more than lip service.