Police Scotland chief constable admits force is ‘institutionally racist’

The chief constable of Police Scotland has admitted the force is “institutionally racist and discriminatory”.

May 25, 2023
By Paul Jacques
Sir Iain Livingstone

Addressing a meeting of the Scottish Police Authority (SPA) on Thursday (May 25), Sir Iain Livingstone QPM said while the phrase can be “misinterpreted or misrepresented as unfair and personal critical assessments of police officers and police staff as individuals”, this is not the case.

“However, it is right for me, the right thing for me to do as chief constable, to clearly state that institutional racism, sexism, misogyny and discrimination exist,” said Sir Iain.

“Police Scotland is institutionally racist and discriminatory.

“Publicly acknowledging these institutional issues exist is essential to our absolute commitment to championing equality and becoming an anti-racist service. It is also critical to our determination to lead wider change in society.”

He added: “Recognising institutional discrimination, institutional racism, in my view, is a statement of reality. The real challenge, the real test, is how are we working to address it, what are we doing about it?”

Sir Iain said institutional racism, sexism and institutional discrimination have “become iconic terms in the vital battle to tackle injustice”.

“Police officers and staff, including police leaders, can be conflicted both in acknowledging their existence and in using such terms, fearing it would unfairly condemn dedicated and honourable colleagues or that it means no progress has been made since the 1990s,” he said.

“Truly, I recognise and understand that conflict. I have experienced that conflict myself over a number of years.

“Prejudice and bad behaviour within policing, as highlighted by court and conduct cases, various independent reviews and by listening to our own officers and staff over recent years, is rightly of great concern and is utterly condemned.

“There is no place in Police Scotland for those who reject our values and standards. Our vigilance as an organisation has never been stronger – rigorous recruitment; enhanced vetting; more visible conduct outcomes; and a focus on prevention.”

Sir Iain said while officers and staff “do incredible things to keep our communities safe”, he admits people from different backgrounds or with different requirements “don’t always get the service that is their right”.

He added: “We know that, for the same reasons, our own officers and staff don’t always have the experiences they deserve. When an organisation doesn’t have all the necessary policies, processes, practices and systems in place to ensure that doesn’t happen, it’s an institutional matter.

“A candid, clear, assessment of institutional discrimination means recognising our absolute duty to provide just and effective policing for all according to their specific needs and circumstances.

“It also requires identifying and removing the deep-rooted barriers to achieving this.

“These are necessary steps to progress the commitment that Police Scotland will be anti-racist; a personal commitment I made to my fellow citizens at the commencement of the Public Inquiry into the death of Sheku Bayoh. And, as a commitment to the people of Scotland, it is also a commitment to Sheku Bayoh’s family and loved ones.

“The onus is on us, the police service, to address gaps and challenge bias, known or unwitting, at every level, wherever bias occurs, to maintain and build confidence with all communities.”

Sir Iain said its Policing Together programme identifies and coordinates effective and sustainable change right across Police Scotland.

“We are actively, genuinely, listening to under-represented communities, inside policing and across our country and beyond, to understand how we can better serve them.

“We are investing to give every police leader the skills and tools they need to build inclusive, effective teams. We are committed to increasing our knowledge and learning on inclusion. We are open, we want to know more. We are committed to regularly and actively challenging and changing our own policies and procedures to eradicate unwitting bias.

“In my view, all organisations, not only in policing, should share and make those commitments to move beyond words and focus on action.

“Our intention, my intention, is to move towards meeting the ambition set out by Sir William Macpherson [in his 1999 report on the murder of Stephen Lawrence] to eliminate racist prejudice and disadvantage and demonstrate fairness in all aspects of policing.”

Sir Iain, who is due to retire in August, said injustice and discrimination are “insidious wrongs with deep roots in history” and work to address institutional discrimination “will and must continue” beyond his time as chief constable.

“Acknowledging institutional discrimination, acknowledging institutional racism will, I believe, act as a catalyst to drive and embed progress. The whole service must and will retain our resolve, our commitment and our focus,” he said.

“Our success, the success of policing in Scotland, will be measured by the improved experiences of our officers and staff, and of all the communities, all our fellow citizens, who we serve.

“Recognition that institutional racism exists within Police Scotland is a key step, a fundamental step forward towards being an inclusive service, which champions equality for all the people of Scotland. It is the right thing to do and will make policing in Scotland even more effective in keeping people safe.

“Understanding and recognising institutional racism and all forms of institutional discrimination within Police Scotland can, and should, be a source of confidence and optimism for officers and staff, for our organisation, that, collectively, we can lead necessary change in the service and, indeed, contribute to change across society.

“And our progress, our commitments, should act as a challenge to other services, other agencies, organisations and institutions to look to themselves rigorously and honestly, as we have done, and join and support the mission to eradicate discrimination.

“Scotland as a whole must commit ourselves to that purpose. The police service of Scotland is committed to that mission, committed to ensuring our police service and institutions are, together with the people of Scotland, building fairness, equality and justice.”

Responding to Sir Iain’s comments, the Scottish Police Federation (SPF) said: “SPF has heard the chief constable’s statement and the rationale for  making it.

“If there are processes, policy’s, attitudes or behaviours which amount to discrimination in relation to racism, sexism or misogyny, then we will work  with the service to eradicate them.”

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