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Last Updated: Tuesday, 8 March, 2005, 14:38 GMT
Chequered history of police diversity
By Cindi John
BBC News community affairs reporter

The report found minority officers were more likely to leave

A report by the UK's race watchdog concluding that forces in England and Wales are still failing on race issues is the latest in a long line of bids to change the culture of Britain's police forces.

The report by the Commission for Racial Equality (CRE) made 125 recommendations to improve diversity within the police.

But there have been reports and other recommendations before on how to make the police service less racist and more inclusive.

Notable among them was the Scarman report which followed the 1981 riots in Brixton, south London.

The police have for several decades been investing a lot of effort in trying to increase the number of ethnic minorities they recruit and they've never been very successful at it
Dr Mike Rowe
Leicester University

Eighteen years later the Macpherson report in the wake of the killing of black teenager Stephen Lawrence concluded the Metropolitan Police which investigated his death was "institutionally racist".

In 2004 another report into London's police force concluded black and ethnic minority officers faced serious discrimination.

Dr Mike Rowe of the University of Leicester's department of criminology says the evidence shows that although police have put considerable effort into changing culture after such reports, success has been limited.

"The police have for several decades been investing a lot of effort in trying to increase the number of ethnic minorities they recruit and they've never been very successful at it; frankly, it's a very bleak position."

Former trade unionist Bill Morris
Bill Morris' report into the Met police found minority officers faced racism

Approaches to dealing with racism have changed with each successive report, according to Dr Rowe.

"The Scarman agenda was there was a problem with a minority of rotten apples who you preferably didn't recruit in the first place but if you did you had to have good disciplinary measures in place to get rid of them.

"Prior to Macpherson the approach to make stronger pleas to the community, to do more outreach work to attract them in.

"Post-Macpherson the emphasis has been on also looking at the internal realities of policing to try and address that as well," Dr Rowe said.

Recruitment problems

Although hailed at the time as a turning point for police/community relations, progress on implementing Lord Macpherson's recommendations has been patchy.

Muslim policewomen
Many forces are failing to recruit enough ethnic minorities

One of the key recommendations of the Macpherson report - that police services should reflect the communities they serve with regard to ethnic make up - is one many forces have failed to fulfil.

The Home Office panel which monitors progress has acknowledged there is a problem with recruitment of ethnic minorities.

Their latest report stated: "There is still some way to go to reach the 7% national target by 2009. Current national representation of minority ethnic officers and staff as a proportion of the overall strength is 3.8% (as at 31 March 2003)."

Some forces, such as the Metropolitan Police, have already publicly admitted they will not reach their target and a senior police officers' association now wants the Home Office to amend forces targets to make them more achievable.

Enforcement powers

So given the patchy implementation of police report recommendations in the past, how high are hopes the CRE report will have an impact?

Ray Powell of the National Black Police Association believes it is the CRE's enforcement powers which will make a difference this time.

"What the inquiry report does is actually to say 'you will now start to monitor your policies for any evidence of disproportionality and you will also investigate it'.

"If these recommendations aren't implemented then there is legislation whereby a non-compliance order can be laid against police services which don't comply without having a good reason," Mr Powell said.

Two forces had that experience last year after the publication in June of the CRE's interim report into the police service.

It found 14 out of the 43 services in England and Wales were in breach of the Race Relations Amendment Act 2000 by not producing an action plan on tackling discrimination .

All but West Mercia and West Midlands police quickly complied. In October both were served with compliance orders warning them to rectify the situation or potentially lay their chief constable open to prosecution and a jail term.

Since then the CRE has judged all of the schemes are compliant with the police forces' race equality duty.

Police face race inquiry
30 Oct 03 |  UK

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