‘Institutional racism applies to South Wales Police’, says chief constable

The chief constable of South Wales Police says he accepts that the term ‘institutional racism’ applies to his force.

Oct 11, 2023
By Paul Jacques
Chief Constable Jeremy Vaughan

Addressing the National Black Police Association Conference, hosted by South Wales Police in Cardiff, Jeremy Vaughan acknowledged there were “people with racist attitudes” in the force.

“I have heard too many lived experiences of black and other ethnic minority officers to come to any other conclusion,” he said.

“Some racism is overt and blatant. Where we find out about it, I have been clear that our response should be swift and uncompromising.

“Some of it is much more subtle and beneath the surface, but if people are treated less favourably because of their race consciously or unconsciously, let’s be clear it is racism.

“It’s a fact that many black and ethnic minority officers and staff experience racism at work, and it is routinely ignored, dismissed, or not spoken about.

“I have spoken to too many current and former colleagues in the South Wales Black Police Association who have lived experience of this racism and discrimination.

“The saddest thing for me is that many colleagues don’t think it’s worth reporting as they feel nothing will be done or it will worsen their situation.”

However, Mr Vaughan stressed: “It’s very important for me to make the point here that I am not criticising my officers, staff and volunteers in South Wales Police, the brilliant people who do brilliant things every day and who I’m proud to lead.

“I am also not accusing them of conscious or purposeful exclusionary or racist behaviour towards those they protect, work with and live with, and whilst I know this does happen on rare occasions in my organisation, I know the vast majority wouldn’t dream of behaving in this way.

“I am simply making the point that our organisation has to acknowledge this challenge. Why? Because it must, to build trust and confidence with those who feel like our organisation has and continues to let them down.

“Without public trust, the principle of policing by consent is nothing more than an unattainable ideal.”

Mr Vaughan, who is heading into his fourth year as chief constable of South Wales Police, said: “The reality we face is that some communities trust us less because they don’t think that we represent them; they don’t think that we are there to help them; they don’t think that we will protect them or deliver justice for them – and black communities trust us the least of all.

“And while the temptation might be to question and examine whether the lack of trust is justified or justifiable through evidence and statistics, this lack of trust is our problem to solve.

“It does and should keep me awake at night and I’m clear we should do everything in our power to build trust and confidence amongst those we serve; their absence of choice, firmly and squarely places the responsibility for this challenge on our shoulders, on my shoulders.

“We have made good progress in the area of equality, diversity and inclusion over the past few years.

“It’s been a priority area for me in my delivery plan and will continue to feature in every delivery plan I develop in the future.

“It’s imperative that this is the case, as we have well-established proudly diverse communities here in South Wales, and it’s important we understand, listen to and celebrate this heritage.”

But he added: “If I’m being honest, progress is still too slow and we’re still dealing with the challenges of deep-rooted mistrust, suspicion and sometimes hostility from some communities, especially black communities.

“These feelings are understandable, and they permeate within communities across generations because of some historic and other more recent examples of discrimination and abuse from interactions with authority, including our service.

“The trauma and pain this has caused and continues to cause, casts a long shadow of mistrust which is difficult to quantify.

“I sincerely believe we have no chance of addressing the trust and confidence deficit among our black communities unless and until we acknowledge we have a deficit.

“There is also little possibility of solving this problem if we don’t fully recognise it exists in the first place.”

Regarding the term ‘institutional racism’, Mr Vaughan said he has spoken to officers and staff,  engaged with members of communities, and looked at the force’s service delivery.

“Based on these definitions [of institutional racism] and my conversations, it’s my view that the term institutional racism applies to South Wales Police.

“I believe we have already made many statements to that effect; we just hadn’t acknowledged it explicitly and most importantly of all we had not communicated it to those communities who needed to hear it the most.

“All the actions that we have put in place, before and during my time with South Wales Police, the consistent effort that we have given to equality in our workplace and all the attention that we have given to diversity and inclusion means that we have acknowledged that we have a problem, and we have recognised that we have so much more to do.”

Mr Vaughan said South Wales Police is redoubling its efforts to earn the trust of all communities.

“During my time as the chief, I have consistently said that not being trusted by all our communities should be something that we all worry about,” he said.

“Our black communities think that they are under protected and overpoliced; and our data confirms that they have every right to believe that.

“Our response to the rise in conscious awareness amongst black communities about disadvantage and racism; our response to the Black Lives Matter protests; our response to poor representation amongst black, Asian and minority ethnic communities in South Wales Police; our response to disproportionate decisions and outcomes for black people and our response to the experiences of our own workforce all suggest we have recognised our challenge and our problem.”

Mr Vaughan added: “Our response has been considerable.

“We have delivered a representative workforce recruitment programme since 2015, well before uplift began, in that time we have trebled our representation and retained black and Asian officers at a higher rate than the rest of the country.

“We offer tailor-made development to officers from black, Asian and ethnic minority backgrounds to support them in achieving their ambition.

“Every part of our organisation has joined-up mechanisms to address disproportionality in use of police powers, decision making and allocation of our resources.

“Stop search disproportionality has halved in the last two years, you are now significantly less likely to be searched if you are black in South Wales than you were, but still more likely than if you are white. It’s not good enough, but its progress. It’s also worth noting that every stop search is reviewed and every search of a black or Asian member of the community is further scrutinised by a chief inspector.

“Our independent advisory group, a diverse cross-section of our communities, acts as our critical friends, reviewing the use of our policing powers and advising us on how to deliver our services.

“We have a dedicated equality, diversity and inclusion team and existing expertise, which means we are one of the best resourced organisations across all public services in Wales to deliver our equalities mission.

“We have recently launched our strategic equality plan to ensure we have a coordinated way of mainstreaming delivery in every department, region and team.

“Our first line managers are being trained to create inclusive teams, while senior leaders are being developed to lead with equality at the heart of their strategies.

“These examples of action are in direct response to the issue we know we have, but as I outlined, we just haven’t acknowledged it, and most importantly haven’t communicated it to our black communities.

“I believe we have no chance of addressing the trust and confidence deficit among our black communities, unless we acknowledge we have a deficit.

“We now need to redouble our efforts to earn that trust which is so important for us to be able to effectively police by consent.”

Put simply, Mr Vaughan said this means challenging racism wherever it occurs; building an ethnically diverse workforce and developing minority ethnic staff to become future leaders; actively involving communities and networks in decisions on policies and procedures; being transparent and accountable for all actions; and educating the workforce on how policing affects communities.

“If we do this, the public will engage with us and will help us – and working together we will help keep the most vulnerable in our communities safe, we will support victims and bring criminals to justice,” said Mr Vaughan.

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