The leader of the National Police Chiefs’ Council, Gavin Stephens, has called policing in the UK institutionally racist.
Stephens is the latest in a string of senior leaders and chief constables to describe forces as such. In June, the chief constable of Avon and Somerset Police said she was “in no doubt” that racism was rife within systems across the force.
And in May last year, Sir Iain Livingstone, Police Scotland’s chief constable, admitted the force was institutionally racist and discriminatory following a review into its working culture.
In an interview with the Guardian newspaper, Stephens called for a fundamental redesign of national policies and practices within policing to eliminate discrimination.
Institutional racism in policing
He emphasised that this was his personal view, but that he felt discrimination in policing operated at an “institutional level”. He felt that too little progress had been made to reform policing, and that some leaders had been slow to acknowledge the challenge.
In March last year, Baroness Louise Casey published a damning review of behavioural standards and culture in the Metropolitan Police. Although Met Commissioner Sir Mark Rowley said the report had generated “anger, frustration and embarrassment”, he refused to believe the label of “institutional” racism and misogyny.
Stephens told the Guardian that it was up to leaders to clarify what institutional racism means and doesn’t mean, adding that “it doesn’t mean that all police officers are racist”.
“The way our policies, procedures [and] training have been designed and implemented for many years have not had the voices of black people involved in the design, the implementation, of those practices. And as a consequence of that, we get disproportionate outcomes in places where there shouldn’t be disproportionate outcomes,” he said.
“The most helpful discussion for policing to have in the future is how we redesign the policies, the practices, the implementation, of policing to remove that discrimination.”
He added that he personally supported the idea of police officers being licensed in a similar way to doctors and nurses – something he believed would help to professionalise the service.
In May 2022, the College of Policing and NPCC published a Police Race Action Plan, designed to improve outcomes for black people who work within or interact with policing.
The plan was criticised for perpetuating “structures that exist within policing itself”, but the NPCC has said it continues to test and refine anti-racism activity and the content of the plan.