Avon and Somerset Police ‘institutionally racist’, chief constable sayson June 16, 2023 at 5:11 am

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Sarah Crew of Avon and Somerset Police says it is “not representative of the community we police”.

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A chief constable says she believes her own force is “institutionally racist”.

Sarah Crew said she came to that conclusion after applying a series of criteria to Avon and Somerset Police following a report into the local criminal justice system.

She said she was “in no doubt” that racism and racial bias were reinforced within systems across the force.

The force’s Police Federation has objected to her statement and said it could divide officers and communities.

Ms Crew said: “We are not representative of the community we police. I am now owning the definition of institutional racism.

“This is recognition that the system is unfair, and our job is to make it fair.”

Avon and Somerset Police sign

Ms Crew examined her force’s performance based on Baroness Louise Casey’s criteria.

She was the peer asked to investigate the performance of the Metropolitan Police following the murder of Sarah Everard by a serving officer.

Active discussions about racism have taken place within Avon and Somerset Police since Desmond Brown published his report Identifying Disproportionality in the criminal justice system in the force area.

His report showed evidence of a difference in the way the force interacted with people from different ethnic and racial backgrounds, particularly those who were from black heritage communities.

British police man backwards to the camera

Image source, Getty Images

Ms Crew said: “Since the report, we’ve been having active discussions and carefully working through Desmond’s recommendations to ensure that lessons are learnt.

“To make real change we need to work together, we need to be accountable and by admitting the truth we can start to make progress.

“I am hugely committed to build trust amongst all communities and this is an important step.”

A Met Police officer with a machine gun and his face covered standing outside

Image source, Getty Images

She described Baroness Casey’s review into the Metropolitan Police – which found it was guilty of “institutional prejudice”- including racism, sexism and homophobia – as another “catalyst” for Avon and Somerset Police to examine itself.

“I’m in no doubt that, by Baroness Casey’s criteria at least, Avon and Somerset Police is institutionally racist,” Ms Crew added.

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The Casey Review sets four tests on institutional racism:

  • There are racists – and people with racist attitudes – within the organisation
  • Staff and officers from black heritage and ethnically/racially minoritised backgrounds experience racism at work and it is routinely ignored, dismissed, or not spoken about.
  • Racism and racial bias are reinforced within systems.
  • The force under-protects and over-polices black heritage people
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“I must accept that the definition fits – it does for race,” said Ms Crew.

“I think it’s likely to for misogyny, homophobia and disability as well, though the gaps in the data don’t give us the sense of scale, impact or certainty that we have for race.”

However, the Avon and Somerset force’s Police Federation, which represents officers, has objected to Ms Crew’s statement.

The federation said it created “a false narrative” that could cultivate the impression that its officers were racist.

Chair Mark Loker said Ms Crew’s comments had been shared internally via a vlog and needed data to back them up, otherwise they amounted to “virtue signalling”.

He said: “I contend that by our chief declaring Avon and Somerset as ‘institutionally racist’ this will create a false narrative and actually drive a divide between our officers and the communities this is intended to assist.

“If accusations of ‘institutional racism’ are levelled against institutions, these should – like any other serious accusation – be subject to robust assessment and evidence.”

Last year, the force apologised to an investigator who was subjected to “toxic” racial abuse.

Avon & Somerset Police Chief Constable Sarah Crew

Ms Crew argued that there was “real data” behind her words.

“You are six times more likely to be stopped and searched in the force area if you’re from black heritage,” she said.

“The evidence is undeniable – we are improving but it is not happening fast enough.”

Ms Crew added: “I need to be clear, I’m not talking about what’s in the hearts and minds of the vast majority of people who work for the force.

“This is about recognising the structural and institutional barriers that exist and which put people at a disadvantage in the way they interact with policing because of their race.”

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