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The focus on opinion rather than evidence underlines why race reform in the UK policing is stuck

Abstract of Feature Article in Police Insight, 20th June 2022


The recently published Police Race Action Plan has prompted more discussion around the issues of racial disparity and institutional racism in UK policing. Dr Kul Verma, a former officer and now a leadership coach and diversity and inclusion adviser attempts to address issues around race in policing will be doomed to fail without brave conversations based on evidence rather than opinion.


Policing is excellent at problem-solving, but on the issue of race reform, we seem to be stuck in a perpetual cycle of action plans that do not yield positive outcomes – and worse still, no culture change.


The Police Race Action Plan jointly developed by the College of Policing and the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) is the latest in a long line of plans and strategies to address the declining confidence gap between black communities and the police.

However, as Dr Carina O’Reilly’s recent article in Police Insight highlighted, the new plan avoids acknowledging that the police in the UK are institutionally racist.


Little progress

The question of legitimacy for the police concerning race has remained stuck for more than 22 years since the Macpherson Report (1999) – only last year the Home Affairs Committee was heavily critical of the progress made since its publication.


Emerging patterns

Within policing there are those who oppose the idea that IR is a crucial factor in the racial disparities evident in the service. They argue that the roots of those disparities cannot be linked to IR and that biases are not just unique to the police. I argue that the police have failed to use evidence or academic research to either dispute IR and its link to discrimination, or to accept the wealth of research outside of policing that asserts it exists.


Web of complexity

So, let’s turn to the central question of why the police fail in reform. Unlike other European countries, the 43 geographic police forces constituting the police in England and Wales have individual accountability and governance agencies.

The collective forces are overseen by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services. Police and crime commissioners, introduced by the Cameron government in 2012, reduced police authorities who made joint committee decisions to one person overseeing the budget and broader strategic priorities – but they can’t tell the chief officer what to do operationally.


Evidence, not opinion

Recently, Andy Marsh, the CEO of the College of Policing, gave a Leadership lecture at Gloucestershire Constabulary and was asked why PCCs and chief constables have disparity in accepting the term institutional racism.

He responded that accepting the term may be damaging to the policing institution; he argued for an “explain” or “reform” approach for greater inclusion, and that the term allowed for politics to diminish the intent for reform. He also added that not all disproportionality was due to IR. This response by Mr Marsh highlights one of the contradictions of race reform, where words expressing opinions seem to carry more weight with some people than evidence. UK policing doesn’t have a coordinated approach to race reform, but worse still, it relies on opinions rather than facts to guide decision-making.


Establish the business case


Being surrounded by people who think the same provide us comfort and may also conform to our worldview and perspectives; however, this reduces our knowledge of how the diverse world operates.

Due to our inability to build an operational business case around race reform based on operational needs, I would argue that we have been distracted by the moral arguments that have polarised police thinking. We need to describe in operational outcomes why diversity of thought is crucial to tackling crime and working in partnerships with the community.


Summary


Policing decisions around race need to be evidenced and grounded in social models that can be used to show the problems and then work towards solutions. Deeper discussions are required to understand the causes of disparity and disproportionate outcomes.

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