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Thursday, 21 December, 2000, 11:40 GMT
Is police effectiveness being compromised?
Conservative leader William Hague says the police are not able to do their job properly for fear of being branded racist.
He argued on Thursday that the Macpherson report into the murder of teenager Stephen Lawrence has affected police morale and their ability to fight crime.
Mr Hague argued that, following the report, many officers are afraid of using their stop and search powers.
The Macpherson report accused the police of "institutionalised racism". And a recent leaked internal report suggests that senior officers in the Metropolitan Police still don't think enough is being done to fight racism.
Is William Hague right? Is the effectiveness of the police being compromised? Should they increase their use of stop and search?
This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.
As usual William Hague jumps onto the band wagon, makes some comments to make himself popular without thinking through beforehand what he is going to say. Let's leave the race card out of this tragedy. The police have a tough job and should not be prevented from doing a stop and search if the circumstances warrant it. However, racism needs to be tackled in the police force.
The death of this young boy in Peckham should be treated with respect for the sake of his family and not to gain political points. How far will this man go to get elected? Playing the race card shows how extreme the Tory Party has become.
Robin Campbell-Burt, UK
I don't agree with any of Mr Hague's comments.
It is sad that he has to use a dead boy to score political points.
I understand that police numbers are down in some areas.
However, we cannot blame any government for the shortage.
The bottom line is, if someone is suspected of committing a crime or looking suspiciously like doing so, then they should be stopped and searched regardless of colour or race! Innocent people have nothing to fear. The justice system in this country is far too soft with criminals, and it's about time they were made accountable for their anti-social actions. This is supposed to be a free country and we should be able to walk the streets and live in peace without fear of crime.
William Hague is trying to stimulate debate in a particularly sensitive area. It is a fact that police morale is at an all-time low. It is a fact that there are nowhere near enough police officers on the streets of Britain. It is a fact that these issues have impacted on our society and contributed to the decline of law and order. Why are we castigating him for having the courage to raise questions that urgently need attention? Whether I intend to vote for him or not, I welcome the arrival of a politician that seems to be prepared to ask the questions that everyone else is too scared to ask.
Having just returned from New York and seen the uniformed police officers on the streets and the transformation in safety in the city I am convinced that nothing short of a massive increase in police numbers will suffice to deal with the disgraceful situation in this country.
And yes, I do agree that the phrase 'institutionalised racism' was ill judged. It has hit police morale badly with the inevitable reluctance to use stop and search powers when most needed.
I'm listening to William Hague on the television at the moment. I can only say that he is a misguided individual if he thinks that, him standing on his soapbox and attempting to earn brownie points at the expense of Labour is going to work. I'm not saying that Tony Blair wouldn't do the same if he was leading the opposition, but at this point in time, when the feelings of pain are so strong with that poor young boys parents I feel that political statements of the sort that William Hague has been making are wholly out of place.
Merx Englan, London, UK
There does need to be a debate on law and order, but as usual it only seems to happen when there's a highly publicised and emotive incident. Hague is being incredibly simplistic and selective. He uses the worst of the tabloid techniques to stir up discontent. I'm surprised others cannot see how misplaced his comments are. Hopefully others in his party will see sense and get rid of him and Miss Widdecombe.
The police themselves are voting with their feet and leaving the service. I guess we'll fix that by debating racism, right?
Hague is not playing the race card. He's playing the law and order card. The Macpherson Report is not holy writ. Its methodology is suspect, its standards of evidence shoddy, its reasoning weak, its conclusions highly doubtful. If Hague deserves criticism, it's because he, like most other front-benchers, gave the report such an easy ride at publication.
For me, Hague ruined any valid point he may
have had to make by saying the report "branded all
police officers as racist". That is overstating any political correctness that may have been in the report. If he stuck to the facts,
people might take him more seriously!
Without the Macpherson report and its recommendations, not just for the police but for local authorities too, select committees would not have been set up to stamp out institutionalised racism and raise a number of other issues with regards to policies, service delivery and consultation with ethnic minority communities. The report has opened the eyes of many people, and positive action is now being undertaken by a number of authorities and institutions.
James M, England
One thing is absolutely certain: the Met is perceived as racist by the black and Asian population of London. They need to know this, and they need to tackle it. Sure it's demoralising to realise that a large proportion of your community distrusts you. But ignoring it not going to make the problem go away.
So, don't shoot the messenger. It's a challenge for management to rebuild trust, to inspire and to motivate police officers. Are they up to it? We shall see.
Maybe Mr Hague has a point, why doesn't the Home Office carry out a confidential survey of front line police to find out what they really think?
Hague has raised a real and valid issue in respect to the use of stop search by the country's police forces. Whilst there are, undoubtedly, individuals who are "racist" the majority of police officers are not.
It is well past time Britons of all colours and backgrounds saw that criminals are criminals, no matter what race or colour and police officers should not be scared to use their powers if the reasons are just and the public should see these reasons as opposed to jumping on political bandwagons.
I didn't realise I was a Tory, but I have to admit there is a lot of truth and common sense in what Hague has said.
Crime hurts everyone whatever their ethnic origin. I cannot help but feel that Macpherson's report was written more for his own hidden agenda than the welfare of everybody in this country. Certainly, it has led to an increase in crime and not the reverse. How can that possibly be a good thing?
The people supporting William Hague seem to be focusing on allowing the police to carry out their duties effectively and being able to stop and question people suspected of involvement in crime. But isn't this exactly what they failed to do in the Stephen Lawrence case? The victim was black, the criminals were white and the police didn't take the crime seriously. That sounds like a good example of institutional racism to me.
William Hague is no racist: he is simply stating obvious facts. Jack Straw and Tony Blair talk big but do nothing to protect those unfortunate people who are forced to live out their lives in daily fear of physical attack on un-policed council estates and in the inner cities. I can guarantee that the overwhelming majority of people living in those hell-holes will endorse Mr. Hague's remarks.
A blackman, England
I am white and have been stopped once by the police. It was 4am on the outskirts of my university, I was dressed largely in black and heading home. The police asked me who I was, where I had been and where I was going. While one radioed back to base to check me I engaged the other in polite conversation. Five minutes later they were finished and we both went on our way. If the police don't have the powers or feel unable to use those powers to perform such checks on people who statistically speaking have a higher chance of being up to something illegal we might as well revert to the laws of the jungle.
Are non-white police officers allowed to stop and search whites or does this constitute racial harassment?
David Ratherbone, UK
I am sure that the police are understaffed and I do not envy them their job in the least. But my experience says that the accusations of racism within the Met are or were very founded. I am a white female but have friends of all colours and creeds. I lived in the London area for well over 20 years. It cannot possibly have been a coincidence that the only TWO occasions I was stopped by the Met I had black friends with me in the car. I was not accused of having committed any motoring offence, I was treated rudely and once had my vehicle searched (unjustifiably and without warrant) at the side of the road on one of those occasions. It's never happened when I have been alone or with other white people.
At last someone is speaking up for the frustrated and disillusioned majority. The police should expect and receive the full support of this country. They have been undermined far too frequently, as many other of our institutions.
The Police are damned if they do and damned if they don't.
The truth in many aspects are something that over the last couple of years, is not to be said. I say it is about time that people were again given back free speech, the quicker the better.
It is wrong to shout down Mr Hague as racist. There is a far more appropriate word to describe his recent comments: "stupid". Increases and decreases in crime rates are due to complicated factors and political parties should not be so ready to claim credit or sling mud when these occur. Mr Hague has given us little reason for thinking that he is an appropriate person to make serious points.
Why is this subject so taboo? If there is a lack of morale in the police force then let's have an open and honest debate about whether that is the case or not. If it is then we need to find out why and what we can do about it. I think William Hague was right to kick start this debate.
Austin Spreadbury, UK
I think those accusing Mr. Hague of playing the so-called 'race card' are themselves playing the 'political correctness' card. Mr. Hague was commenting, and rightfully so, on a fear he has that police officers are getting increasingly branded racist for doing their jobs. Of course Mr. Hague is trying to be political, he's a politician, and those who brand him racist for discussing these issues are doing more harm than good. What black people, such as myself, want is to be treated equally - we don't want positive or negative treatment. All the PC lobby do is cause resentment towards us.
It is not the McPherson report that prevents the police doing their job, but their total failure to understand why they are accused of racism. If they were to apply the same "copper's instincts" as to who looks "dodgy" to the black community that they apply to whites, they would probably find they would be accused less often of harassment.
The current assumption seems to be that ALL non-whites are equally likely as individuals to be criminals, irrespective of action, manner, dress or circumstances. It is unlikely a successful white man in a suit driving a BMW would be searched repeatedly for drugs and offensive weapons, yet this is scarcely an uncommon occurrence for successful black people. As long as the police persist with long discredited stereotypes of what black people should be, they will remain emasculated by their own prejudice.
As a trainer of police officers I can say that there is very low morale amongst colleagues partly because some feel they are having their value systems undermined. The public's perception of the profession is at an all-time low through no fault of the massive majority of hard working courageous officers. Thank goodness I still get to teach classes of eager new recruits dedicated to serve the public professionally and impartially.
How come nobody gets upset when they are asked to be searched entering a night club by a large brutish thug, but lose the plot if asked by a professional body such as the police? I'm white and I have been stopped on various occasions late at night. Once a friend and I had to show the contents of a backpack in the early hours of the morning. On producing a granny night gown (for a fancy dress party) the police just laughed all the way back to their car. Embarrassing as it was, I'd rather see them taking back the streets from criminals.
Ian Stone, UK
This is just the same old xenophobic stuff from Mr Hague and Miss Widdecombe which should serve no purpose other than to undermine the Tory party's moral and ethical credibility. In light of the fact that in a recent Scottish survey, over 80% of child refugees housed in Scotland claimed to be the victim of some sort of racial abuse, it is also extremely dangerous. This appears to be "lowest common denominator" politics to me and is not just desperate, but worrying.
This is a mark of a desperate man who will go to great lengths to get votes, despite criticism the Metropolitan Police have moved on since the report.
Would YOU like to be branded a racist just for doing your job? This is what the police face every day on our streets in Britain. William Hague was right to denounce the report. The police in this country should have the same respect and fear that the rest of our European cousins enjoy. Perhaps then we might have more peace!
To label every white person racist is a ploy to divert people's interest away from what is really happening on our streets by a few so called "liberal" do-gooders. Please let common sense prevail and let all parties debate the real issues instead of being side tracked by a minority element - remember we all have to live in this country.
Typical Tory statement in order to gain votes. While the police feel that it gives the impression that all officers are racist which I believe is not true it will be stereotyped across the force. The same can be said for innocent black people who have been stopped like myself, the way the police feel now is the same way many innocent and hardworking black people have felt for years.
I was born here and like my friends have worked for 15 years without any involvement in any crime. Unfortunately between us we have been stopped many times in the past for no genuine reason. While I do believe the police need to carry out stop & searches especially with the amount of knives that are on the street they should direct it at those committing the crimes because the majority of black people are law-abiding and are also victims of crime like anybody else.
The main problem with debate in this country is that there is so many taboo areas. Politicians are denied the opportunity to discuss anything related to race for fear of "raising the race card". Full marks to William Hague for talking on this subject. It may not actually do him any good (already the Lib-Dems have accused him of using the race card) but at least he has initiated a national discussion on a subject happily ignored by the broad media.
Yes, the police must be free to use effective tactics, but stop and search is not effective when it is based on racism and it alienates whole sectors of society. The many communities which make up British society can work well with the police but only when their diversity is respected. Operation Trident, where the black community in London is working with the Met to combat 'Yardie' gun crime proves how well this can work.
Unfortunately the Tories seem to want to return to seeing people who are not white as criminals, spongers, bogus and a threat something deeply damaging for the whole of British society.
When we lived in England my sons were regularly stopped and searched on Friday and Saturday night not because they are black (they are white) but because they were between the ages of 15 and 25 so they must have drugs. On one occasion my son was taken to the police station and stripped searched. Nothing was ever found on them. Perhaps the police should also be accused of ageism. I know of many other white male teenagers this has happened to but it is never mentioned as it isn't newsworthy
I worked in New York City as an inner City Public School teacher in the late 1980s. I and my students lived through virtual hell as the city got taken over by criminals and the gangster, drug culture. The worst part was having to deal with politically correct idiots blaming the police for "insensitivity" and "racism" etc. Thank God New York City and their very tough police force took back the streets and murder, rape, hard drug-dealing have been cut in half. Decent people can now actually walk the streets, ride the subways and yes, go to school without being murdered. So England, it's your turn, do you have the courage and strength to take back your streets and stop hoodlums from killing ten year- old boys?
At last somebody talking sense. What does it matter what colour we are. We are all British. Let the police do their job, catching criminals, without having to walk on eggshells. If you aren't a criminal then why should you worry!
William Hague says something else controversial in an attempt to tap into the public mood. Once again, I cannot fight the desire to thank him for displaying so succinctly the hypocrisy endemic in his party. Roll on Labour.
Institutional racism means whatever the user of the term says it means. It has no objective reality. It is even possible to be guilty of institutional racism without ever being conscious of the fact. As a consequence of this degradation of the language "racism" is well along the road taken by fascism and becoming a meaningless term of abuse applied to those you dislike. Is this the intention of those who invented the term?
Tim Saunders, UK
As the government have convincingly argued in Northern Ireland, crime arises as a reaction to the police. The best way to eliminate crime is to emasculate the existing police forces. Convicted criminals should be released from the prisons. Policing boards should be set up and run by neighbourhood crime bosses. Released prisoners should be contracted by the police boards to take care of policing within each neighbourhood. All offensive references to the government should be removed from police uniforms and from the name of the forces themselves. Once all of these steps have been put into place, criminals will no longer feel persecuted by the police and will give up crime for careers in agriculture and education. Crime as we know it will become just a painful memory.
I pray this comment is the nail in the coffin for Mr Hague's bid to win the next general election. I can't believe he has intentionally alienated the entire ethnic minority vote in this country and the vote of every individual who wishes to see an effective, trusted and un-bigoted police force.
Hague may be factually correct (which I doubt), but even if he is, he should be looking for improvements in Police accountability and management, not just trying to sweep racism under the carpet and pretend if we don't talk about it - it will be miraculously cured.
I understand the criticism, but the police have brought this on themselves. As a professional body it is up to them to hold onto professional standards. I've seen police on an anti-racist march being grievously provoked by black agitators and holding back. William Hague is making himself ridiculous by party politicising everything. Racism is too serious to use for political point scoring. His simplistic analysis of the situation is no help.
William Hague is absolutely right and the figures prove it. Of course criminals don't like being stopped and of course they will play the reverse race card to paralyse the police if we let them. The problem we have is not the criminals but the naive and dogmatic politicians who would rather fight an outmoded class war than face the reality of the social chaos which they are creating.
Mr Hague is right to raise this issue. The Macpherson Report could have been written by Professor Heinz Kiosk who claimed that "we are all guilty". The police must be freed from Macpherson's slur and allowed to enforce the law with neither fear nor favour.
Alex, NZ (ex-pat)
I've been stopped and searched in London by the wonderful Met police more times than I care to remember and on none of these occasions was it ever justified. Surprise, suprise, I'm black and yet almost every white person I know has NEVER been stopped and searched by the police.
So let's stop the fake-xenophobic rhetoric Hague old boy, because we know you're only doing it because you feel even more marginalised in political terms as many non-whites do in social terms.
I agree with Hague's point, but not his timing; the accusation of "institutional racism" was an obvious flaw in the otherwise reasonable report and should have been pointed out as soon as it was published. All political parties now need to unite and back our police force in their fight against crime, before it spirals out of control.
This looks very much like electioneering by a desperate political party. Yet another race card is played by the xenophobic Tories. I cannot imagine this will endear them to the public at large any more than their previous sensational headline grabbing comments.
Never mind that, let them
concentrate on the important
issues like stopping drivers
doing 35 in a 30mph zone and
arresting people for dropping
The police in the UK are too short staffed to perform their jobs. Police officers on the street and a reduction in red tape is required, then a more effective police force will occur.
The police should have the right to stop and search; it should be a key part of the fight against street crime, but it should not be based on skin colour, which has been the case in the past and continues today. The Met has accepted that there is institutional racism in the force as there is in many other institutions. They are trying to tackle the issue and get rid of racist elements who encourage it and we should support them in their efforts. So what is Mr Hague doing? Didn't he and his front bench agree with the Macpherson Report when it came out? Why the change now? Perhaps it's to do with the forthcoming election and an attempt to stir up right-wing voters?
Mr Hague is correct is saying that this has damaged the effectiveness of the police. Ahhh, I heard about this last week, last month and last year and I don't live in the country. This must be political point scoring, not political action.
No, William Hague is not right. It's perfectly possible to go about your business without being racist. Most of us achieve it, so why should the police be any different?
They are there to uphold the law, which should in most cases be clear and transparent about their rights and responsibilities.
I don't agree with Mr. Hague. He is just trying to get into the spotlight.
So is Mr Hague trying to say that if it had been known in advance that the findings of the McPherson report would lead to a reluctance to use stop and search, then the findings should have been suppressed? If not, it is hard to see the point of his argument. I also wonder how he came to the conclusion that the rise in crime, which has such complex roots, is due to the Mcpherson report. The report was long overdue and without it the problem of racism in the police force would have gone unacknowledged for much longer. Any problems that arise from it must be tackled in their own right; looking back and pointing the finger is not enough. It is not even the right direction to be looking in.
We need to have an open debate about these problems. However by making such statements you are immediately branded as being racist. How can we have a sensible debate when you are being branded a fascist for having either a differing view from the left or making a comment that they do not agree with.
14 Dec 00 | UK Politics
Hague takes aim at Lawrence report
14 Dec 00 | UK
The power to stop and search
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