Are the Police Racist?

This post is an update of some of the evidence that might suggest the police in England and Wales are Racist.

This is a key topic within the sociology of Crime and Deviance. You can view a summary of the latest statistics on ethnicity and crime here.

This 2018 Video from News Night is worth a watch: in which black people speak about their experiences of being stop and search, many as young as 11-14 when they were first stopped and searched.

Many of the young men say they have been stopped over a dozen time, one says he can’t remember how many times he has been stopped and searched!

Liberty have released an analysis of Stop and Search stats pointing out that policing become much more discriminatory during Lockdown in England and Wales.

The government relaxed the restrictions on police stop and search during Lockdown and gave the police more freedom to stop and search at their discretion. The result: the number of black people stopped and searched (under section 60) increased dramatically.

They also report that black people were up to seven times more likely to receive a fine during Lockdown compared to white people.

Black, People, Racism and Human Rights is a recent report published in November 2020 which has a whole section summarising the over representation of black people in the Criminal Justice System – from stop and search through to deaths in custody.

One interesting point to note is that families of people who have been through the CJS think that black men in particular are stereotyped by the CJS as being troublesome and violent.

This blog post summarises some interesting research published in 2016 that found ethnic minorities, especially black youths, featured heavily in ‘gang databases’ held by the London and Manchester police, even though such gang members had no formal history of violence. In fact the stats show that white people have higher rates of convictions for violent crime, but the police databases had disproprotionate amounts of black people on them simply for their being members of gangs.

This suggests an element of stereotyping the way policing was conducted.

The blog further summarises research of Prosecution teams who were more likely to draw on gang stereotypes (Rap music for example) when trying to convict black people compared to white people, and black defendants were also more likely to have their text messages used as evidence against them when undergoing trial compared to white people.

Why are Black People Stopped and Searched more Often by the Police?

The latest figures on Police Stop and Search show that black people are now nine times more likely than white people to be stopped and searched by the police.

This is a key statistics relevant to the A-level Sociology crime and deviance module. And I must say this is a thoroughly depressing trend, as the last time I updated this it was ‘6 times’ more likely, so the disproportion in stop and search has gotten worse!

The figures show that 6/1000 white people were stopped and searched by the police in the last year, compared to 54/1000 black people.

It is also interesting to note that ‘black other’ has a much higher rate than all other ‘black’ or any other sub category of ethnic group.

Asian people are now three times more likely than white people to be stopped and searched.

Why are Black People Stopped by the Police more Often?

This increase in disproportion of stop and search has been investigated by the media recently.

Channel Four News recently put together an item in 2020 covering the topic:

They frame the issue of stop and search in the context of the ‘British Police’s Long History of Race Relations’, reminding us of the following key events:

  • 1981 – Brixton Riots – when young black people felt over policed and Under-protected.
  • 1985 – the death of Cynthia Jarret after police officers searched her home in North London.
  • The video points out that there were also disturbances over police racism in Birmingham in 1981 and 1985, so this wasn’t just a London issue.
  • The flawed police inquiry into the murder of Stephen Lawrence by four white men is mentioned next, and the fact that the 1999 Mcpherson Inquiry found the MET to be institutionally racist.
  • In 2011 Mark Duggan was shot and killed in London while police tried to arrest him, sparking Riots in several cities across the UK.
  • Finally, during Lockdown, you’re twice as likely to be fined for breaking Lockdown in London if you’re black compared to if you’re white.

The police have responded to the accusations of racism by trying to do more outreach initiatives with communities and recruit more people from Black and Ethnic Minority backgrounds, however, the police’s own figures still show that black people are ten times more likely than white people (I guess they rounded up!) to be stopped and searched by the police.

Black people are also more than twice as likely to die in custody than white people.

The video mainly focuses on an interview with Neil Basu – assistant commissioner for the MET, the highest ranking officer from a minority background.

He agrees there is racism in the police because Racism, but puts this down to the fact that Racism still exists more broadly in the United Kingdom.

And he says the MET are not institutionally racist in terms of policies but in terms of not having equal outcomes, then yes they are.

In short he says that the higher Stop and Search rates of black people is all about society, not the police.

The Police use force more often on Black People…

This recent report (2021) by the HMICFRS found that black people are five times more likely to have force used on them during Stop and Search – such as the police drawing or using Tazers or using handcuffs during the search.

The report also found that around 20% of stop and searches are initiated by officer intuition, so they are ‘spontaneous’, which isn’t in line with national guidelines, and they found that most forces don’t regularly review body cam evidence to check stop and search procedures.

In a way I guess this report backs up what Basu says about the police not being institutionally racist in terms of policies, the problem is that too many police are ignoring formal guidelines and using their (racist?) intuition to stop and search.

The Use of Stop and Search for Drug Possession is also part of the problem

Stops for drug possession account for nearly 60% of stop and search, and drug possession is a relatively minor offence (compared to stops for suspected theft or holding a weapon).

The report suggests that if the police spent less time focussing on this it might help reduce the disproportionality by ethnicity in the stop and search figures!

NB – this raises the question of whether Black People just happen to use and/ or deal drugs more than White people – but the stop and search figures alone can’t tell us this and there is something of a paucity of self-report study data on drug use by ethnicity. I may return to this question in a blog later this month!

Find out More…

For a more detailed look at statistics on ethnicity and crime, please see this post here.

Are police officers really 100 times less criminal than the general population?

189 police officers have been convicted across 12 police forces in England in Wales in five years since 2013 , according to a recent FOI request (source: The Telegraph). This equates to just 37.8 police officer convictions each year.

According to Full Fact, there were 126, 300 total police officers in England and Wales in March 2019.

This gives us a police officer conviction rate of 0.03% per year – that is to say that 0.03% of police officers are convicted of a crime each year.

1.38 million people in the general population were prosecuted in the year (CJS Stats, 2018)

A very rough estimate for the number of adults in England and Wales is around 50 million, so this gives us a rough adult conviction rate of 2.76 per year.

This means the Police officer conviction rate is 100 times less than that for the population as a whole.

How accurate are these statistics?

Personally I’m sceptical about the police officer conviction rate.

Despite the fact that the police probably are less likely to commit crime – I mean it kind of goes with the job, not committing crime, and then there’s the embarrassment of getting caught even if you are criminally inclined, which I imagine would be a further deterrent, I still think there’s a lot of criminal police officers whose crimes are just not getting detected.

I imagine you’d be less likely to be suspected of a crime – I mean the police themselves aren’t going to get stopped and searched are they?

Then there’s the fact that prosecutors might be more reluctant to prosecute police because it makes the system look flawed.

Then of course there’s all those things which won’t be defined as criminal because it’s the police doing them in the line of duty – such as speeding and violence, and drug possession come to think of it.

Is Violent Crime Increasing?

According to the latest police recorded crime figures there has been a significant increase in crime in the last year:

  • Gun crime has increased by 27%
  • Knife crime has increased by 26%
  • Robberies have increased by 25%
  • Stalking and Harassment have increased by 36%

At first site, what’s interesting about these figures is that they not only demonstrate a radical increase, but this abruptly reverses the recent trend in declining violent crime:

increase violent crime UK

However, these figures may not actually give us a reliable picture of the actual change in violent crime because of ONE simple fact: police forces in England and Wales are facing significant budget cuts, and so there may have been a more concerted effort on the part of the police to detect and record crimes over the last year – if crime can be shown to be going up, then this can be used as evidence to not cut police funding.

Then there’s the possibility that the public may be reporting more crimes – the ability to report online, for example, makes it easier to do so, and where harassment crimes are concerned, this may be due to a wave of recent campaigns such as the Everyday Sexism blog,¬† to raise awareness of the fact that such behaviour is not acceptable.

British Crime Survey, based on accounts by victims, shows that crime is still going down, and this is generally regarded as a much more valid way of measuring the extent of crime in England and Wales than police recorded crime, as the BCS removes the subjectivity-bias of the police in investigating and recording crimes:

police recorded compared british crime survey

Sources 

The Guardian