Posted: Wednesday 25th April 2018
Twenty-five years have passed since a young man had his life taken away from him in a cowardly, despicable racist attack, twenty-five years since the subsequent mistake-riddled initial investigation took place, which prevented justice from being served on those who murdered Stephen Lawrence.
In these twenty-five years, we have seen campaigning from across our communities demanding justice for Stephen, but also change, in policing as well as wider society, led by the extraordinary and tireless work of Stephen’s parents, Neville and Doreen Lawrence OBE (now the Baroness Lawrence of Clarendon). This campaigning, and the subsequently Macpherson report published in 1999, set the country on an important learning process: as the APCC Leads on Equality, Diversity and Human Rights, we would like to take the opportunity here to take stock of how far we have come since 1993, and what more needs to be done.
In terms of progress, we can see that tangible improvements have been made in the way that victims of racist crimes and incidents are treated by the police and other agencies. For example, the Macpherson report recommended that a racist incident should be defined as “any incident which is perceived to be racist by the victim or any other person”. This represented an important step toward empowering victims to feel confident that when they report racist crimes and incidents to the police, they will be taken seriously; it also paved the way for developing the way that the police respond to hate crimes affecting other communities.
Furthermore, Macpherson recommended that victims of racist incidents should be able to report incidents at locations other than police stations: it is now common practice for hate crime victims to be able to report at any number of locations within a force area, whilst in some areas such incidents can be reported via smartphone app. Meanwhile, more broadly the report has contributed to improving the way that victims of crime and their families are supported by the police as well as the CJS: one example being that now victims, or their families in the event of homicides, are kept informed regarding decisions relevant to their case as a matter of course.
Of course, there is still much progress to be made in order to build a relationship of trust between all our communities and the police: surveys consistently reveal that black people, as well as people of mixed heritage, do not feel as confident in their local police forces as members of other communities.
Meanwhile, we have much further to go to ensure that police forces are truly representative of the communities they serve: for example, whilst London’s ethnic minority population is 43%, only 13% of police officers are from a Black, Asian, Minority Ethnic (BAME) background. Indeed, making the police workforce more representative of the communities they serve is a key cornerstone of the APCC and NPCC Policing Vision 2025. We look forward to meeting with Chief Constables in November this year, to discuss their plan for achieving this, and carrying out their duty to eliminate discrimination and advance equality of opportunity within their forces.
So, whilst progress has been made, as with all learning processes, for both individuals and organisations, there is no definite end: we must keep challenging ourselves to improve and ensure that forces are more representative of the communities which they serve, and that police officers treat all those they serve equally, with compassion and respect. Only through doing so, can policing maintain its legitimacy in the eyes of all communities, which constitute the public that it serves.