Criminal Evidence Act

The officer continued: “Interestingly I say we because there is no marked difference between black and white in the force essentially. We are all consumed by this occupational culture. Some of us may think we rise above it on some occasions, but, generally speaking, we tend to conform to the norms of this occupational culture, which we say is all powerful in shaping our views and perceptions of a particular community''.

There is a clear understanding here that it is not the character of the contact between predominantly white police and black people in law enforcement situations as such which is the root of the problem but rather the lack of other contact outside that relationship. The reason that the white police officer knows that not all whites are suspects is that he or she meets a diversity of non-criminal whites both within and outside the police organisation but, above all, outside the policing relationship as such.

The problem for the latter, in this analysis, is that officers impose upon it attitudes derived from their restricted interactions with ethnic minorities. By deflecting attention away from the policing relationship as such, Macpherson arrives at policy agenda which is largely a reiteration of strategies that have been in existence for over a decade and which have manifestly failed. It is an agenda whose focus lies on issues of cultural communication and understanding rather than structural locations and inequalities of power and resources.

From this standpoint there are two main strategies both of which are articulated by Macpherson. Firstly, attempts can be made to change the occupational culture of policing through a widening of ethnic recruitment combined with measures to increase police officers contacts with and awareness of the cultural diversity of contemporary Britain. Secondly, there can be attempts to minimise the impact of officers cultural assumptions on the application of legal and procedural rules in law enforcement encounters with citizens.

Attempts to change police culture, if they start from the assumption that contact between police and ethnic minorities outside law enforcement situations is the key problem, generally involve measures aimed at an increased recruitment of ethnic minority officers, race awareness training for white officers, and various `meet the community' initiatives. Macpherson calls for a significant reorganisation and expansion of race awareness training in the police service (recommendations 48-54) as well as measures to increase the recruitment and retention of officers drawn from ethnic minority communities (recommendations 64-66).

But such strategies have a considerable history. Scarman called for an increased recruitment of ethnic minority officers having noted that in 1981 black officers constituted 0. 5 percent of the Metropolitan Police (Scarman 1981 para 5. 6) The proportion of minority officers is currently 3. 3 percent, a figure still dwarfed in comparison to the 20 percent of London residents who are members of ethnic minority communities. Similarly, various forms of race awareness training have been on the agenda of police forces throughout the United Kingdom for many years.

Scarman called for training aimed at “an understanding of the cultural background of ethnic minority groups… '' and indeed was “satisfied that improvements in police training are in hand. '' (Scarman 1981 5. 16, 5. 17) Macpherson found, however, eighteen years later (6. 45) that not a single officer questioned before us in 1998 had received any training of significance in racism awareness and race relations throughout the course of his or her career.

He noted the `identified failure of police training' yet provided little in the way of analysis as to why it had failed, simply an injunction for more such training, more vigorously implemented (See Recommendations 48-54). Similarly, if the issue was simply that of increasing the contact between police and ethnic minorities outside a law enforcement situation then developments during the period should have been considerable. The fact that they were not suggests perhaps that some important factors have been overlooked, not only by Scarman in 1981 but, equally, by Macpherson in 1998.

The thesis that racism, institutionalised and reproduced in police occupational culture, can be signficantly reduced by increased contact between (white) police and ethnic minorities in non law-enforcement situations tends to be couched in terms of very generalised concepts of `black' and `white' and to see these groups as monolithic. In fact, the majority of white police officers interact with a very restricted segment of the white population; overwhelmingly other police officers. They also tend to live in outlying white upper working class or middle class suburbs.

There is no obvious reason why they should see all other whites as akin to themselves. The fact that white police officers meet other whites in a non law enforcement situation does not stop them stereotyping those sections of the white population from whom they are separated by geography, socio-economic status, gender and age. The key issue is power rather than ethnicity per se. In other words the crucial aspect of the relation between police and white communities is less the existence of contacts outside the law-enforcement relation than police perception of significant power groups in the white population both nationally and locally.

Middle class black people are not seen as significantly powerful to cause trouble for the police or to be seen as worthwhile allies to further police goals. The recruitment of more black police officers, while desirable in itself, would not necessarily change this relationship. The half-hearted pursuit of race awareness training is perhaps explicable-though not condonable-if police do not perceive a necessity to accommodate to the demands of minority communities. Police-community liaison schemes have suffered a similar fate.

The strategy of liaison with `respectable' members of minority communities stretches back to the Community Relations Councils of the 1960s. The aim of these was rather to depoliticise race relations by linking immigrant communities to the state “through buffer institutions, replicating key features of traditional colonial relationships. '' (Katznelson 1973: 178) In the wake of Scarman a new effort was made to establish police-community liaison committees more specifically oriented to discussion of local policing needs and to get the police to see the advantages of discussing crime control with community groups.

Liaison was made statutory under the 1984 Police and Criminal Evidence Act. While there were some successes most such groups were largely `talking shops' with little impact on relations between police and minority communities. (Kinsey et al. 1986, Morgan 1987) What had been ignored was the issue of power. Police were willing to listen to those who agreed with them and would act as their supporters. But otherwise there was little incentive to listen to the demands or grievances of those not perceived to be politically powerful at either a local or national level.

In a sense the whole methodology of the Macpherson report, in particular the tendency to define the problem in terms of the cultural values of the participants, undermined its ability to pre-empt such a deflection. The focus on the failure of police to breakdown their cultural isolation through ethnic balance and and race awareness training is now switched to a focus on the alleged failure of ethnic minorities to integrate themselves into British society.

In both cases the effect is to hide the real structural determinants of the situation: in the case of the police the basis of institutional racism in the control of the socially excluded, and in the case of ethnic minority communities the economic determinants of marginality and social exclusion. Macpherson endorsed (46. 33) government proposals to introduce a Metropolitan Police Authority, that is, a local government body with full powers to appoint all chief police officers and with measures to ensure that membership of the body reflects the ethnic mix of the local communities.

(Recommendations 3, 4, 6 and 7) He sees this as an important contribution to making the Metropolitan Police `open and accountable'. But there is no discussion as to what this accountability might mean in practice. Matters such as whether a police authority should be able to determine general policing policy and methods are not discussed. If they were, then a central assumption of the whole Macpherson Report might well be brought into question. It might rapidly come to be understood that institutional racism is generated by a central aspect of operational policing relationship itself.

The assimilation of the Metropolitan Police to forms of local governance which have existed outside London for many years does little to change the character of the relationship between police and poor communities alienated from the formal political process. More is probably achieved in this respect by individual innovative local police commanders or local councillors than constitutional arrangements which allow, at the most, a voice for middle class professionals from the minority communities who are increasingly distanced from the grievances of the poor.