Avon and Somerset Constabulary ‘institutionally racist’ says chief constable

Avon and Somerset Constabulary’s chief constable admits issues around race, sexism and homophobia exist at her force.

Jun 16, 2023
By Paul Jacques
Chief Constable Sarah Crew.

“Perhaps not as stark as we’ve seen elsewhere, but they are here none-the-less,” said Sarah Crew.

“When it comes to race, I’m in no doubt that, by Baroness Casey’s criteria at least, Avon and Somerset Constabulary is institutionally racist.”

Her views echo those of outgoing Police Scotland Chief Constable Sir Iain Livingstone QPM who admitted last month that the force was “institutionally racist and discriminatory”.

Ms Crew said since publication of the Baroness Casey review, she has been encouraging conversations and debate within the organisation, more specifically around institutional racism.

“For some time now at Avon and Somerset Constabulary, we’ve been discussing how we truly become an anti-racist police service,” she said.

“The conversations have been compelling and inspiring and have helped us focus on the courageous steps we must take to turn this ambition into a reality.”

Ms Crew added: “A little over a year ago, Desmond Brown published his report ‘Identifying Disproportionality in the Avon and Somerset Criminal Justice System’, which showed clear evidence of differential experiences in the way we interact with people from different ethnic and racial backgrounds, particularly those who are from black heritage communities.

“Since then, we’ve been carefully working through Desmond’s recommendations and ensuring those lessons form a key part of our developing Race Action Plan.

“Baroness Casey’s review into the Metropolitan Police, published in March, was another catalyst for us to examine ourselves. It’s been a stark reminder for policing as a whole that the need for real and profound change is essential if we’re to retain the public’s trust and confidence.”

The Casey Review set 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; and
  • The force under-protects and over-polices black heritage people.

“I must accept that the definition fits,” said Ms Crew. “I think it’s likely to be true 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.

“I need to be clear: I’m not talking about what’s in the hearts and minds of most people who work for Avon and Somerset Constabulary. 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.

“Not being racist is no longer good enough, not for me and not for any of us. It is no longer okay to be a bystander and do nothing; to be part of a system that disadvantages one group of people over another.

“As for the few who do demonstrate attitudes and behaviours which are racist or discriminatory, we remain on a mission to root them out – they shouldn’t be in policing, and we don’t want them here.”

In May, Ms Crew shared a video interview with officers, staff and volunteers to outline her reflections on the Casey review and the themes coming out of it.

In it she stressed that “it’s not about labelling every single individual who works in policing as a racist. What it is, is a recognition that the system is unfair and our job, is to make it fair”.

She added: “We need the trust and confidence of our communities to do policing well. If we can rebuild that confidence by taking this step – more people report crime, more people give us intelligence – when those things happen, we start to do a really good job at policing and keeping our communities safe.

“For those who think this is woke’ism or political correctness – for me it’s not – it’s just common sense, core, fundamental, pure policing.”

Ms Crew said Avon and Somerset Constabulary was developing some “key work” to tackle disproportionality, particularly around stop and search where it is adopting an ‘explain and reform’ approach.

“All officers now receive regular refresher training on how to conduct fair and respectful stop searches, and the use of body-worn video to record all such interactions is mandatory,” said Ms Crew.

“Internal and external scrutiny panels meet to review stop searches, to identify learning for individual officers and teams. A new stop search receipt is being developed to make it easier for people who have been stopped and searched to provide feedback on their experience.

“We also want to have communities involved in changing our systems. We’ve got some ideas, but we need to develop them together with those most directly affected. So, we will be reaching out to our communities over the next few months to ask people to come forward if they want to be involved or maybe just informed.

“This will ensure any changes we make will reduce disproportionality and re-build trust and confidence form our black heritage communities.

“We’re also working on a programme of online engagement to support young people in understanding their rights in stop and search, as well as helping to demonstrate what a good stop and search should look like and what to do if they feel a police power is not being used legitimately.

Ms Crew said plans are also in development to introduce the ‘Chance to Change’ programme, which has been piloted by West Yorkshire and the Metropolitan Police Service and has led to a reduction in offending for 18 to 24 year-olds.

The scheme allows people to avoid a criminal justice outcome for low-level or first-time offences.

“These types of out of court disposals often require an admission of guilt to take part, which research has shown can be a barrier to young men of black heritage, therefore leading to harsher and disproportionate criminal justice outcomes,” said Ms Crew.

“The aim of this scheme is to keep more young men of black heritage out of the criminal justice system, reduce re-offending and improve relationships between the police, criminal justice system partners and black heritage communities.”

She added: “We want to be a police service that protects people of black heritage from crime and seeks justice for them, and we recognise that some people from these communities do not have the confidence to report crime to us. This must change.

“We’re exploring ways to bring equity to the way victims of crime are treated, to address the disparity in the way that people of black heritage experience crime.”

Ms Crew said they were also committed to becoming a ‘trauma informed’ organisation and are working with the Violence Reduction Units and the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner to roll out a programme of trauma informed training across Avon and Somerset.

“The training includes cultural trauma and inclusivity, giving officers particular insight into the traumas felt by people of black heritage, to ensure fairer, more sensitive policing,” concluded Ms Crew.

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