Training rights the wrongs of 175 years of racism

Terry Devoil has been handed responsibility for the Met’s
largest-ever training programme. He talks to Nic Paton about the challenges he
faces to ensure every member of staff undertakes the Community and Race
Relations training programme

Detective Chief Inspector Terry Devoil was a sergeant when in 1983, he was
called to a flat in north London to investigate complaints by neighbours of
blocked drains.

"We went inside, lifted up a pan and there was a head inside
cooking," he explains cheerily. The flat belonged to serial killer Dennis
Nilsen and Devoil is proud that he was the one to arrest him.

Devoil, 47, has been with the Metropolitan Police for 30 years, 19 as a
uniformed officer on the beat, then with CID, including working as a Met
trainer from 1992. This pedigree of experience has stood him in good stead for
what is perhaps his most challenging role to date – overseeing the Met’s
largest training programme in its 175-year history.

Devoil is head of the force’s diversity training school, located at its
police training college in Hendon, north London, running the £20m Community and
Race Relations (CRR) training programme. It is an ambitious project to bring
race awareness training to all of the Met’s police and civilian employees.

The project is a central element of the Met’s response to the Macpherson
inquiry into the murder of Stephen Lawrence 10 years ago. Out of the inquiry
came a report that memorably and controversially branded the force
"institutionally racist". Recommendation 49 of that report said that
all police officers, CID and civilian staff "should be trained in racism
awareness and valuing cultural diversity".

"The first thing to say is that the Metropolitan Police was and is
still institutionally racist," admits Devoil. "But that’s not a
direct criticism of this organisation. It is the result of decisions, policies
and practices made by white, middle-aged, heterosexual men since Sir Robert
Peel started the Metropolitan Police."

Prior to leading the CRR, Devoil was working as a crime manager in the
borough of Waltham Forest, specialising in dealing with domestic violence. With
the highest Asian population in the UK outside Bradford, he and his fellow
officers had to be keenly attuned to the sensitivities of culture and race

Intriguingly, he says the Met was piloting a programme similar to the CRR
before Macpherson. "What Macpherson did was accelerate it. Whether we
would have trained the whole of the Metropolitan Police, I would think not. It
was the Macpherson report and subsequent government action and priorities that
made this a Metropolitan Police priority," he explains.

The programme has been a huge undertaking, with 37,500 people having taken
part since early 1999, at a rate of 1,100- 1,500 a month. The first phase was
completed at the end of last year.

Around 36 police trainers and 60 "police associate" trainers were
recruited as a first step. The associates were trainers from the outside
community, including teachers, doctors, prison governors, consultants, people
who had worked in local authorities and professional trainers and were a first
for the Met.

After an intensive three-week ‘train the trainer’ course, 10 teams were set
up across London to run the mandatory two-day courses. Each team, with one team
leader and five trainers, was responsible for training a borough, with places
such as New Scotland Yard. Hendon counted itself as an extra.

Each team leader was responsible for training two sites simultaneously.
Class sizes varied from 12 to 27, but were normally around 16, with the course
being conducted away from the station. "You had civil support staff being
trained alongside police officers from the counter terrorism branch, detectives
being trained with firearms specialists and canteen staff," Devoil

The courses were designed to focus on areas such as attitudes, stereotypes,
changing values, looking at why communications break down and why people react
to power and dominance in different ways. They were normally opened by a senior
officer to drive home the importance the Met attached to them. The whole
programme has been strongly backed from commissioner-level down.

One of the most controversial but effective elements of the training – and a
recommendation within the Macpherson report – was to bring in ordinary people
off the street to speak to the participants. "Four to six people came in,
they were paid, got a free meal and could say what they liked to police
officers. They thought it was a sting," laughs Devoil.

"The police officers were not in uniform, not on police premises and
were not allowed to say anything. We depowered them. For about 20 minutes you
heard a lot of things about the way they looked, the way they were stopped and
searched – that kept coming out. After 20 minutes, the officers were allowed to

"I went through it three or four times. I remember there was this one
black lad, about 17 years old, very eloquent. He had his cap on back-to-front,
his puffa jacket and his trainers, and there’s me suited and booted, and he
said, ‘OK, Mr Diversity, I come and knock at your door and I ask can I join the
Metropolitan Police?’.

"I replied I’d love him to. He said: ‘I want to come to you and be
interviewed dressed like this’. ‘Well you can’t,’ I replied. ‘Why can’t I? I
want to be a police officer but I don’t want to wear your uniform.’ ‘Well you
have to.’ ‘So if I turn up in an interview would you accept me?’ And I had to
say ‘no’. So [the process] gets you to challenge your value systems," says

After the Macpherson report, many officers resented the fact they felt they
were being branded as racist. "That was actually not what Macpherson said,
but the media were quite mischievous. And when you saw the scenes coming out of
the Macpherson inquiry and subsequently when those five arrested [for the
murder of Lawrence] got off, there was a lot of criticism of the police, and
quite justly so," concedes Devoil. "We did not do a very good

One of the hardest parts of the training, was to get beyond the assumption
that officers were being sent on the course solely to be barracked. Similarly,
there would be times when the trainers would be met with aggression and

"We did have the die-hards, the ‘well, I’ve been doing it like this all
my career, and I’m never going to change because I’m not doing anything
wrong’," admits Devoil.

So, has it worked? As yet it is hard to say. The Institute for Employment
Studies is currently carrying out an external evaluation, due to be published
in August. Between 100 and 200 participants in Greenwich, Harrow, Lambeth and
Barnet are being interviewed, but plans to sample the communities to see if
attitudes and perceptions there have altered have been scrapped because of

The Met is doing its own evaluation, getting feedback from each borough,
which should be assessed by the beginning of next year. Anecdotal evidence,
says Devoil, suggests around 70 per cent of participants found the programme
had made a difference, while between 87 per cent and 91 per cent were satisfied
with its outcome.

From the first phase, the programme is now moving on to tackle issues of
workplace culture, gender and flexibility. As yet this is at the pilot phase.

It will also take time to replace lost trainers. The CRR programme has lost
about 20 per cent of its trainers since it started, with burn-out from dealing
with such a stressful area a significant factor.

Whatever the outcomes of the two current evaluations, Devoil, for one,
believes it may take 30 years to know for sure whether the programme and any
subsequent incarnations have been a success.

"I’ll tell you now that we have changed our culture in the last three
years," he stresses. "When I look back when I’m old and grey, the
Metropolitan Police will be a more representative organisation. I think it will
be a much better place to work in," he concludes.

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