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Police training on race issues is now so heavily politicised that it risks making officers cynical and defensive rather than more tolerant and understanding, a report by the Commission for Racial Equality (CRE) warned yesterday.
There was a danger, the report said, of a “backlash” from some white officers, who felt the message coming out of the police hierarchy was inconsistent and incoherent.
The report, written for the CRE by Sir David Calvert-Smith, QC, a former Director of Public Prosecutions, said training often focused on lists of politically “correct” and “incorrect” words which officers could or could not use and failed to instil a “core ethic of respect” for all racial groups.
Sir David, who presented the report yesterday, said more effective training was needed as the police service still attracted some recruits who were racist and wanted to “bully people” and some middle ranks in the police still did not take racism seriously.
His report cited Home Office research suggesting that community and race relations training “had not made a major impact on forces”. It lacked clear organisation and provoked cynicism on the part of some officers.
Sir David’s report said these findings reinforced his view and that of his fellow authors “that race equality training requires skilled management effectively to support its delivery”.
“There is a real potential for ‘backlash’, particularly amongst white officers, and the delivery of race equality training remains far more ‘politicised’ and sensitive than the delivery of other types of training.”
One of more than 100 recommendations in the 300-page report stated that “chief officers should ensure that their forces emphasise in training the core ethic of respect and consideration of the full diversity of individual groups and needs from which non-oppressive language will grow, rather than the mechanistic lists of ‘correct’ and ‘incorrect’ terminology.”
Another recommendation in the report was the creation of a new police disciplinary offence of “racial misconduct”, backed by a national code of conduct for officers. It defined racial misconduct as “unacceptable conduct in the workplace that amounts to racial discrimination in its broadest sense”.
Those found guilty of racial misconduct would face penalties ranging from warnings — for lesser offences such as incivility — to dismissal for behaviour such as racial harrassmment, it suggested.
Launching the report yesterday, Sir David added that training police to treat people fairly should be “a core part of policing rather than a politically correct bolt-on”.
The report was commissioned by the CRE after a BBC documentary, The Secret Policeman, in 2003, showed appalling racism among recruits in a north-west training centre. It found that, two years on from the programme, effective race training was still very much needed.
Its central conclusion, five years after the Macpherson inquiry labelled the Metropolitan force as “institutionally racist”, was that such racist attitudes still existed in some sections of the service in England and Wales, which has around 140,000 officers.
The CRE said yesterday that, on race, the police service “is like a permafrost — thawing on the top, but still frozen solid at the core”.
Sir David said: “There is no doubt that the Police Service has made significant progress in the area of race equality in recent years. However, there is still a long way to go before we have a service where every officer treats the public and their colleagues with fairness and respect, regardless of their ethnic origin.
“We welcome the improvements that have already been made and the strong leadership shown by the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo). But the fact remains that every time you drill down you find that ice, and unless more is done, it won’t melt any time soon.”
Sir David made clear yesterday that he was not “castigating” all middle ranks but he argued that many had been promoted exclusively because of their operational policing ability and did not necessarily have skills in racial diversity.
He also warned that despite attempts to screen out unsuitable recruits, some still got into the police. Sir David commented on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “Unfortunately, you will never get rid of recruits who want to join the service in order to bully people and a number of those will want to bully black people.”
He added after the launch of the report: “We need to create … a much more community-based and community-focused service, which sees itself not just as a crime-fighting organisation — which it must continue to be — but also as part of the cement which binds a multi-cultural society together.”
(Posted on March 9, 2005)