Update on IOPC race discrimination work

Published: 21 Oct 2021

Background to our work on race discrimination

There is a long and well-documented history of tensions between the police and the Black community. While some progress has been made there is still much more to do to ensure that we have a police service where all communities are provided with an equitable service where they feel protected and respected by the police.

Public confidence is vital for a policing model that is based upon consent. Failure to acknowledge race discrimination and the experiences of Black, Asian and minority ethnic communities continues to undermine the legitimacy of policing, fueling distrust among members of those communities that the police will use their powers fairly and effectively and protect them from harm.

It must be named and addressed.

Community groups have raised concerns with us about the disproportionate policing of their communities compared with other racial groups and the impact of racial bias that influences the beliefs, actions and decisions of officers.

In September 2020, following increasing community concerns about policing and racism, we brought forward planned work on race discrimination as a thematic area of focus for the IOPC. Through this work we are seeking to expose and challenge race discrimination and racial disparities where they exist in policing in England and Wales and hold forces to account for changing policing practice.

This report provides a summary of our progress to date, including the types of cases and issues we are seeing and any emerging learning. A further report will be published next year providing more detail about the impact of this work.

While our work does not give us a fully representative picture of policing across England and Wales, the complaints and conduct matters we see are typically the most serious and sensitive cases and therefore important.

The allegations of discrimination we are seeing are very real and should be cause for concern by police forces across England and Wales.

Encouragingly, there are many signs of good practice and innovation emerging from police forces committed to tackling race discrimination and disproportionality, which we will continue to explore as possible catalysts for change. It is important to continue pushing and challenging both ourselves and the broader policing system to call out and address race discrimination.

Early insights from our work

Disproportionality in the use of stop and search

Many of our investigations and reviews with a potential element of race discrimination feature the use of stop and search. This supports what we are hearing from communities and other stakeholders who are telling us that that stop and search is a significant issue in Black communities in particular and has a corrosive impact on trust and confidence in the police.

Investigations we have carried out have resulted in:

  • A recommendation that an officer reflect on the stop of Black man in his car and the strength of the intelligence that justified the stop. We also recommended that the officer consider how his actions could disproportionately impact Black men, why the stop could be viewed as discriminatory, the impact the incident had on the man involved and the effect it could have on confidence in policing. The force agreed with this and a further recommendation which has led to the officer receiving additional training in equality, diversity and inclusion.
  • A finding at a misconduct hearing that an officer had breached the Standards of Professional Behaviour in respect of Equality and Diversity, Authority, Respect and Courtesy and Discreditable Conduct following the stop of Black woman in her car. The woman suggested that the stop stemmed from racial profiling and discrimination. It was also alleged that both officers made a comment that appeared to stereotype Black people. When she challenged this with the officers, she alleges that the officers’ behaviour was unprofessional, inappropriate and intimidating. The IOPC found that the officer had a case to answer for gross misconduct. The officer had resigned from the force prior to the misconduct hearing, but the Panel concluded that the breaches were proven and it would have considered imposing a sanction less than dismissal. Another officer was found to have a case to answer for misconduct. A misconduct meeting took place which determined the officer had breached the Standards of Professional Behaviour in respect of Authority, Respect and Courtesy and Discreditable Conduct. The sanction was in the form of management advice.

We are currently developing national learning recommendations based on evidence from our stop and search cases. These will be published in due course.

Disproportionality in the use of Taser

Concerns about race discrimination and disproportionality are among the issues most commonly raised by community groups and stakeholders in relation to Taser use. There is particular concern that the stereotyping of young Black men and boys is leading to them being disproportionately subjected to police use of force, including Taser.

In August 2021 we published a review of 101 independent investigations over a 5-year period (2015-2020) involving the use of Taser. This found that Black people were disproportionately involved in these investigations. 71% of the individuals were White, 22% were Black, less than 4% were Asian and less than 2% were of Mixed ethnicity. This is broadly in line with Home Office ethnicity data on Taser use.

Black people were, as a proportion, less likely to have been subjected to a Taser discharge than White people, however when they were subject to Taser discharges, they were more likely to be tasered for prolonged periods. 29% of White people involved in Taser discharges were subjected to continuous discharges of more than 5 seconds, whereas the figure was 60% for Black people.

In the majority of cases involving either allegations of discrimination or common stereotypes and assumptions, there was evidence that the individual concerned had mental health concerns or a learning disability. This supports findings by others that the intersectionality of race and mental health can increase the risk of higher levels of use of force.

We made 17 recommendations to address issues identified in our report. This included a recommendation to the College of Policing relating to training officers to provide an understanding of race disproportionality in Taser use, and the impact this has on public confidence and community relations with the police.

Cultural issues

We see evidence in certain cases where the behaviours and actions of some officers conflict with the values expected of them.

This has been apparent in a number of investigations we have carried out into police officers sharing offensive and inappropriate content on social media. It is encouraging that many of these instances have come to light because police officers have called out their colleagues and reported their concerns as they are duty bound to.

We carried out a series of linked investigations, known as Operation Hotton, involving officers formerly based at Charing Cross Police Station. Our investigations looked at allegations including bullying and harassment, drug use, destruction of evidence and the sending of misogynistic and discriminatory text messages. As a result of this investigation a disciplinary panel found that two former officers would have been dismissed from the force without notice had they still been serving. Both former officers have been placed on the Police Barred List preventing future employment with the police service.

Investigations relating to social media and race discrimination have included:

  • In December 2020, several Metropolitan Police Service officers received final written warnings for gross misconduct after sharing text messages which contained offensive references to people with disabilities and jokes about rape, paedophilia, racism and homophobia.
  • An investigation into the sharing of an image by a Devon and Cornwall Police officer on a WhatsApp group that included a number of other police officers and staff. The altered image inserted a naked adult film actor in the place of a police officer kneeling on the neck of George Floyd. We sent our investigation report to the Crown Prosecution Service which authorised a charge under S.127 of the Communications Act 2003. The officer was acquitted by a district judge of the criminal offence of sending a grossly offensive image. Our investigation report found that the officer had a disciplinary case to answer for gross misconduct and it will now be for the force to take forward disciplinary action.
  • In April 2021 two Metropolitan Police Service officers were charged with misconduct in public office in relation to allegedly taking photographs at a crime scene in Wembley the previous year and subsequently sharing them. This followed a referral from the Metropolitan Police Service after the deaths of Nicole Smallman and Bibaa Henry.

Failure to investigate

We know from speaking to our stakeholders that where a person from a Black, Asian and Minority background is a victim of crime, there are concerns that investigations are not conducted with the same rigour as they would be for a White victim of crime.

We have also had concerns raised with us, in the context of our thematic work, about the police response to people from Black, Asian and minority communities going missing. There are people who believe that racial discrimination may have impacted on the investigation into their missing family member, leading to gaps in the actions they would have expected from the police.

For example, we are currently investigating complaints by Richard Okorogheye’s mother about the way the Metropolitan Police Service handled reports that her son was missing. As part of our investigation into whether the police responded appropriately to the concerns raised that Richard was missing, we will consider whether his or his mother’s ethnicity played a part in the way the initial reports of his disappearance were handled.

We also investigated how the Metropolitan Police Service handled a number of calls from the family and friends of Nicole Smallman and Bibaa Henry who were concerned about their whereabouts.

Summary of key activity

Work to tackle inappropriate use of social media

In April 2021 the IOPC Director General wrote to the National Police Chiefs Council asking them to remind forces and officers of their obligations under the police Code of Ethics and Standards of Professional Behaviour. Following this the National Police Chiefs’ Council has issued a reminder to forces of the expectations of officers when using social media and messaging apps. They have also set up a working group to address these issues. We are now working with the NPCC and other policing stakeholders as part of this working group to support their work to bring together tools and assistance at a national level to address this issue.

Reviewing police handling of discrimination complaints

Across most police forces, discrimination complaint allegations continue to be upheld at significantly lower rates than most other types of allegation.

Our 2019/20 Police complaints statistics show that 90% of investigations into discrimination complaint allegations were dealt with as non-special requirements investigations (where the threshold for an indication of misconduct was not found to be met).

Across these cases, only two per cent of discrimination complaint allegations were upheld. This compares with 11% upheld across all complaint allegations dealt with at the same level (investigated not subject to special requirements).

We are concerned there has been little change in complaint outcomes in this area. Overall, race discrimination allegations form a very small proportion of all allegations made against the police. Early indications point to ongoing questions around dismissal of perception-based complaints; lack of early engagement with the complainant; and underreported allegations.

Without question, investigating allegations of discrimination is challenging. However, the police complaints system must be able to meet this challenge and provide effective complaint handling in relation to issues of discrimination. By doing so there is an opportunity to improve trust and confidence across all communities.

In May 2021, we wrote to Chief Constables and Policing and Crime Commissioners to ask for their assistance with this important area of focus.

Many police forces and local policing bodies, alongside the National Police Chiefs’ Council, are actively looking to see where they can make improvements to address longstanding issues around race discrimination, workforce diversity and low confidence in policing within particular ethnic communities.

In terms of local oversight, a wide range of initiatives have been put in place by individual forces and Local Policing Bodies (LPBs) to enhance the process for handling complaints from case reviews to increased engagement with hard-to-reach groups. The most common approach is thematic file reviews and, increasingly, there is a focus on examining possible disproportionality regarding race as a protected characteristic and the impact of this on the process for handling complaints

However, we believe there is more Chief Constables and PCCs can do to understand and address any particularly low levels of upheld rates in respect of discrimination complaints.

Our final report will look in more detail at local handling of race discrimination complaints where we see these cases on appeal and review and we will look for opportunities to share learning around handling discrimination allegations with forces. However, our initial examination of the data shows:

  • The vast majority of race discrimination allegations are treated as formal complaints by forces. Where there are exceptions, contributing factors include how complaints departments are structured and the impact of high-volume complaints arising from mass protests.
  • Where complaints have been managed formally, they are most commonly addressed without an investigation. This allows police forces flexibility to take the action they think will be most appropriate to respond to the complainant’s concerns and could include actions such as gathering information to understand what happened, answering a complainant’s questions or identifying and acting on any learning. Part of our work will be to test whether use of this route is appropriate, and we will consider all relevant factors, such as, assessment of the seriousness of the complaint and use of reflective practice which allows officers to reflect, learn and, where necessary, put things right and prevent any issues from reoccurring.

We are keen to explore these and any other emerging areas further and they will feed into our planned engagement with the forces and Local Policing Bodies and will include further information on this in the next report on this work.

Following up on our learning recommendations

In August 2020, the IOPC issued 11 recommendations to the Metropolitan Police Service to improve their practice in relation to their use of stop and search powers. All 11 of these recommendations were accepted. We shared information about the recommendations to the 32 volunteer Stop and Search Community Monitoring Groups (CMGs) in London. These groups monitor all local stop and search issues including the numbers of stops, arrest rates, disproportionality, complaints and body worn video.

In July 2021 we sent a survey to CMGs to find out what had happened since our recommendations. Responses were received from 20 CMGs representing 19 boroughs.

Many CMGs shared positive feedback and welcomed our stop and search recommendations. The survey results highlight that there is more work for the MPS to do in implementing our recommendations and demonstrating accountability to local communities. However, a small number of MPS Borough Command Units have established action plans which they have shared with and included CMGs on.

Changes reported by CMG members include:

  • Improved data sharing between the police and the CMG on handcuff use
  • Increased awareness and training that the smell of cannabis as the sole grounds to search is insufficient
  • Viewing body worn video footage along with 5090 stop slips and talking to the community about the impact of the powers
  • Focus on attitudes during searches, de-escalation and officer safety training reducing confrontation
  • More complete sets of grounds reported, and fewer single issue causes for stops
  • A commitment to improved supervision and development

Understanding stakeholder concerns

Between January and July 2021, we met with over 192 organisations such as youth commissions, stop and search monitoring groups, youth offending services, third sector services, community groups and local independent advisory groups. Discrimination was an issue with both policing and non-policing stakeholders in 63% of meetings. Stop and search was noted as a theme in half of those.

Particular issues raised included:

  • The disproportionate impact of stop and search practices on Black communities, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Black communities feeling subjected to overuse of handcuffing, stop and search and inappropriate and aggressive policing tactics by officers in the Territorial Support Group or Tactical Aid Units
  • Individuals who have received a negative or unsatisfactory response when reporting a Hate Crime feel less trusting towards the police, and are less likely to complain.
  • Poor police responses to missing people where the person is from a Black, Asian and minority community.
  • Mental health in Black and Asian communities and the way Black individuals with mental health conditions are dealt with by the police.

Many stakeholders also felt the IOPC should be bolder in speaking out more on race discrimination.

We have invited a number of stakeholders with an interest in this work to form part of an advisory group to advise us on our race discrimination work going forward.

We will continue to listen to and act upon stakeholder feedback in this area to ensure that our thematic work is focused on the issues of most concern to the public.

Concerns about disproportionality or potential discrimination that do not tend to feature in the cases referred to us

There are other areas of policing where we know from our stakeholders, or from the media, that there are concerns about disproportionality or potential discrimination but do not tend to feature in the cases referred to us. These include:

  • Cases involving people from Gypsy, Romany and Traveller communities.
  • Cases involving people with insecure immigration status.
  • Complaints about the use of powers under Schedule 7 to the Terrorism Act 2000 which allows an examining officer to stop and question and, when necessary, detain and search, individuals travelling through ports, airports, international rail stations or the border area to determine whether the person appears to be (or have been) involved in the commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism.
  • Complaints about the use of powers under Section 60 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 which allows a police officer to stop and search a person without suspicion where an authorisation has been granted for a specific area.

There may be a variety of reasons why we are not seeing these cases.

We are aware from our public perceptions tracker research that Black respondents are the least confident in both the police and IOPC of Black, Asian and minority respondents. In our most recent published research from 2018/19 we see that only 29 percent of Black respondents are confident in the police’s handling of complaints and 42 percent are confident in the IOPC’s impartiality. This compares with 43 percent of Asian respondents who are confident in the police’s handling of complaints and 61 percent who are confident in the IOPC’s impartiality.

Our stakeholder engagement has told us that extra work is required to build confidence among communities who have moved from countries with corrupt or untrustworthy police and justice systems. We have heard that this can result in a lack of confidence that impacts on people’s willingness to make a complaint. Stakeholders have also spoken to us about the impact of language barriers and cultural differences on people’s ability to engage with the complaints system.

Next steps

It is vital that we are able to respond to the evidence arising from our cases and concerns raised by communities to ensure that this work remains relevant.

In the months ahead, we will carry out further in-depth analysis of the evidence from our cases to identify themes and trends. This will focus on identifying opportunities for learning and areas where changes to policing policy or practice may be needed. This is likely to result in further organisational learning recommendations being developed and published.

We will also work to understand the reasons behind us not seeing some of the issues we might have expected to and consider how we might address any barriers we identify.

Our work on complaints, appeals and reviews will also continue to inform ongoing work with police forces and local policing bodies.

We will continue to identify any areas for improvement in our own operational practice and develop further internal guidance and training as required. We will also complete a review of our discrimination guidelines for police forces.

We are aware that we do not have all the levers to effect change in policing so we will continue to work with partners across the policing and criminal justice systems to maximise our impact across our thematic work.

  • Discrimination