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Racism, the police and the complaints system – is it working?

Our People - Luke Cowles
19 June, 2014

On 16th June on Channel 4, the “Dispatches” series ran an episode titled ‘Secrets of the police’ looking at the issue of how police forces are handling complaints of racism.

If you watched the programme, you will know that the answer is – not very well. Dispatches made hundreds of Freedom of Information requests to compile basic statistics. Across England and Wales 1% of all complaints of racism involving the police were upheld between 2005 and 2012. That was an average of all the police forces – but for some individual police forces the statistics were even lower. The Metropolitan Police upheld just 0.4%, whilst Greater Manchester upheld 0% after receiving 519 racism complaints in the period.

Are these statistics to be believed? It is, of course, possible that the complaints were all properly investigated and the results an accurate reflection of a national police force that has all but stamped out racist attitudes discovered in the past. Equally, many will fear, with some justification, that the figures demonstrate that the complaints procedure is not fit for purpose.

I want to stress that it is unfair and wrong to brand the police ‘racists’ in blanket terms. The police have taken steps since The Metropolitan Police were labeled ‘institutionally racist’ following the Stephen Lawrence inquiry.

Part of the problem comes down to the way in which complaint investigations are investigated. Many people feel that their complaints are not being taken seriously enough, and that – in the absence of independent evidence – complaints are not being upheld.

So what next? Given the statistics, is it even worth bothering to make a complaint of racism? My opinion is yes, it is always worth making a complaint. While the chances of your complaint being upheld appear to be small, there is no chance at all if you don’t complain.

Head of Claims Against Public Authorities Department
Luke Cowles is an Associate Solicitor who works predominantly in the actions against police team but also assists in the mental health team. He advises both clients who are eligible to receive legal aid as well as private clients.

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