Fed Conference 2006 – the Met Pol Fed – Unwitting Racism – The IPCC – The Alder Case – The links?

October 20, 2006
The police service of England and Wales and the Police Federation, if they support the stance of Glen Smyth of the Metropolitan Police Federation in relation to the Alder case and the criticisms of the IPCC, might be making an extremely tragic mistake in relation to Police Community and Race Relations. This inadvertent stance taken by the Metropolitan Police Federation is evidence of the culture of denial that sadly still exists inside police organisations when the debate about racism is opened up. Indeed such a defensive response is nothing new for this was the same response, (denial), experienced immediately after the publication of the Macpherson Report in police organisations in 1998. To say that some police leaders welcomed the report would be patronising. Police leaders took from the report their own understanding; nor did they read or comprehend the real and actual message within the body of the report. In fact they systematically behind closed doors undermined the message. And therefore the current stance of Mr Smyth highlights the historical poor relationship between some Black officers, the Marginalised Black community and the Metropolitan Police Federation.
I do not advocate that the IPCC, just like the police service does not make mistakes or gets things wrong, (incompetence), but historically the police service as an organisation has never on it’s own owned up to it’s own failings particularly where racism is alleged and the organisation worries appears to concentrate it’s efforts on preserving the “good” name of it’s Senior Managers and the possible career costs of a failed litigation, rather than the truth of what has actually occurred. Not only this but investigations are often very white ethnocentric loaded. I would agree that the IPCC can be criticised quite rightly in relation to the Stanley case and the treatment of Inspector Sharman and his colleague, but the IPCC were not the only organisation at fault here.
The execution of a power of arrest remains a police decision and the police service must take some criticism. The protracted enquiry was not therefore just as a result of the IPCC alone. In the race for accountability professional standards departments have kept reasonably quiet over the outcomes of the Stanley case. In the case of complaints made by members of the public where serious misdemeanours are alleged, officers from these departments have historically acted in an oppressive manner towards police officers, even when there is little evidence of malice on behalf of the police officer being questioned.
And some police organisation’s have taken pride in the strength of oppressive investigation’s but these same organisation’s have in effect abused the Human rights of some police officers. The fact is internal complaints systems simply do not work for marginalised communities where racism is alleged. They never will. If the Metropolitan Police Federation is keen to take up the case of the impact of the IPCC investigation on officers then some criticism must be levelled at the Metropolitan Police and the most Senior officer in charge of the incident involving Inspector Sharman.
The IPCC in it’s report writing have created the impression that the account of the officer’s involved in the incident might not be credible because joint notes were made, but joint notes are a recognised practice. This then left a question mark over the officer’s integrity, a question mark that has proven not to exist. However, what is sadly evident in Mr Smyth’s argument is the inadvertent suggestion that comparisons can be made between the IPCC handling of both the Stanley and the Alder cases.
Frankly this suggestion in itself is “unwitting.” Let us not forget the long nd continued negative experience of the Lawrence family, treatment that was delivered by officers of the Metropolitan Police service, treatment that was independently subsequently identified as a part of the problem of Institutional Racism.
The Macpherson Report was described in 1998 by the then Home Secretary, Jack Straw, as a watershed in policing history; and it was this report that defined “unwitting” racism. It would appear from the stance that Glen Smyth appears to have taken that some in the police organisation and some in the Police Federation still, despite the wealth of evidence provided since 1998, continue to deny the existence of both “witting” and “unwitting” racism inside the police service. “Unwitting” racism is not about any guilt, yet we appear to make this assumption that it is. “Unwitting” racism does not necessarily make colleagues guilty of deliberate and intentional racism.
On the contrary “unwitting” racism is born out of our mistaken beliefs and upbringing, our prejudices, our attitudes and values, the manner in which we are all brought up differently and how our views impact upon our decision making and the manner in which we deliver a service to visible minority ethnic people of colour. Often “unwitting” racism shows in a lack of care and/or neglect. One of the reasons why we fundamentally do not understand this term is because the organisation has not taught us the truth of what it is and any training that has occurred has perhaps been ineffective partly because of the poor quality of the training but mostly because of this culture of denial.

As a Home Office qualified Race Relations Trainer I have delivered training and have witnessed courses in “race” in the Metropolitan police and I am very aware of the poor quality of this training nationally. Ours, the services, has been a continuous knee jerk reaction to allegations of racism. In other words we are reactive as opposed to proactive in the field of “race” relations. I have also experienced Centrex’s attempts to deliver specific training to Black staff in relation to leadership. And this intervention for example has now been replaced by the PALP, but it focuses on the wrong issue totally. The course still assumes that Black officer’s require leadership.

The faculty’s focus should be the system because it is the system that is failing; it is not Black officer’s that are failing. Frankly some of us do not require this type of corrupted leadership or game playing. The fact is this course is still rooted in a Colonial mentality, which not only does not teach “race” because Black officer’s can also practice racism, but worse still, this course prescribes the maintenance of the status quo and assists in the maintenance of this culture of denial. Our courses post 1998 are nothing more than reluctant “have to do” issues. Such reasoning for training if it has been adopted nationally in this way, is perhaps a reason as to why racist behaviour still continues. In short, if we are to change things then training needs a radical overhaul from the perspective of those that have suffered racism.
For training the answer is quite simple, employ Black and visible minority ethnic people not because of their colour, but employ those with the required skills and abilities that can deliver training that is effective and allows colleagues an opportunity to not only understand there fears and prejudices, but allows colleagues to understand when these prejudices may result in them stereotyping. Training should also allow officer’s an opportunity to be comfortable enough to challenge these behaviours in themselves and others. It is a fact that the core tenets of “race” training that might actually give us some credibility are still largely ignored by Police Leaders and this is a deliberate act. Training is only one component of failure, HR is perhaps another.
As a service we cannot therefore blame the Lawrence or Alder family for our own failings. The HMIC, the Home Office, the BPA’s and the NBPA have all allowed these failures to sometimes go unchallenged as individuals within core irrepective roles have equally acquiesced through fear or through a desire to remain in post. “Race” is therefore not an intrinsic and natural theme running through the organisation because we simply do not have people with the right experience in relevant departments. What Mr Smyth and others do not acknowledge are the stark similarities between the Macpherson Report and the IPCC Report into the death of Christopher Alder. For example. (1) Both cases have had a lengthy inquest, (2) both cases have had a criminal trial, (3) both cases have had a heavily criticised police disciplinary hearing and other related legal proceedings. There have been two failed police investigations into the Alder case. And it is suggested that The Kent investigation in relation to Stephen Lawrence colluded against anti racism. (4) None of the internal or external police enquiries, e.g. The Kent or Sussex enquiries have made any mention of existence of racism. Only independent enquiries have acceded to the existence of any racism. It is clear that for Black people that the existence of a body like the IPCC is absolutely fundamental to the future of race relations in this country.
Mr Hardwick has indeed made some very frank comments in relation to the death of Mr Alder. For example he stated, “There is no doubt in my mind that the events leading to and following Mr Alder’s death represent very serious failings by many of the individuals and organisations involved – but the process that followed did not hold any individual responsible for these failings. No individuals have been held responsible – yet all of those involved, family and police officers alike, have, to a greater or lesser extent, been punished by the process itself.” Is this not balanced?
Mr Hardwick and the IPCC clearly intimated that there were organisational, in other words “institutional”, failings. The IPCC also made one pertinent comment that is still far-reaching and still conveniently lost by commentators like Mr Smyth. “I believe the recommendations of the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry need continued attention and powerful leadership in all police forces.” This statement is, in my opinion, further damning evidence that the subject of “race” and relevant interventions have been severely watered down since 1998 when the Macpherson Report was published. Then what followed was Secret Policeman documentary and the Cantle Report looking at the Northern “race” riots, and finally the CRE investigation into racism inside the police in 2006 which identified “ice at the heart of management.” It is of no coincidence that an attack on the IPCC in relation to the Alder case is being used and supported by the IPCC failings in the Stanley case to undermine the IPCC’s observations of racism inside the police service.

By far the most remarkable statement that the IPCC made in relation to Mr Alder was: “However, eight years after Mr Alder’s death and despite so much grief, pain, anger and confusion it remains the case that no-one seems prepared to accept responsibility for what went wrong. That at least should now change. The failure of those officers on 1 April 1998 was disgraceful. That should have been said eight years ago. The Chief Constable of Humberside Police should offer an unreserved apology for the force’s failings in relation to the death of Mr Alder and he should do it now.” The facts are that it has taken to independent reports, one by Lord Macpherson and one by the IPCC in relation to Mr Alder to reveal the whole truth about really happened to these Black people that died because of the colour of their skin.

The fact that the Metropolitan Police Federation remain strongly in denial in innapropriately referring to “unwitting” racism as a non existent factor by comparing the Alder case to the Stanley case is as bad as the IPCC intimating that the credibility and integrity of Inspector Sharman and his colleague should be questioned because they made joint notes. The Metropolitan Police’s stance and the lack of direction from the Diversity faculty of the police service in this whole issue is an affront to many of us, some of whom have teenage children who are minority ethnic and who will inevitably be stopped by the police. Perhaps we still hope that young Black people will be treated with some dignity in the future but this is our continual hope when Mr Smyth and others dismiss the IPCC report into the death of Christopher Alder.
Actually what has also been conveniently missed by Mr Smyth are the stark similarities between the treatment of the Lawrence and Alder family, even though there is a substantial time difference between 1993, the death of Stephen Lawrence, and 2006, the publication of the IPCC report into the death of Mr Alder. In the case of Mr Alder making monkey noises is not “unwitting” racism. Shortly after the IPCC published their findings in relation to Mr Alder, the Chief Constable of Humberside Police apologised to the Alder family. And sadly this is the problem. This apology was too little too late because by omission the Force had allowed Institutional racism to breed in the time in between. In this debate if the police service continues to deny the experience of Black people then it is contributing to marginalising the same communities it is trying to recruit from and police.
And the resultant reaction form Black people might well be so devastating that we as a service may experience riots similar to those of the 1980’s. As such it is my opinion that The Police Federation and Police service must be absolutely clear on what message it is sending out. Whilst the IPCC can and should be criticised because of the manner in which Inspector Sharman has been so badly treated, so should the Metropolitan police; but this is no reason to criticise and undermine the IPCC report into the death of Christopher Alder, nor undermine the term “unwitting” racism. Not only is this stance a sad reflection of our professionalism as a service but it is a blow to any of our efforts to promote “race” equality. There are only two positions, racist or anti racist. Unfortunately the Metropolitan Police Federation’s stance is sadly racist.

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