Half of black British police suffer racial incidents from colleagues, survey finds

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Officers polled about experiences of bullying, discrimination and micro-aggressions in past year

Metropolitan police officers undergoing public order training
Metropolitan police officers undergoing public order training. Eight out of 10 incidents happened in the office and the next most common setting was on patrol. Photograph: Paul Doyle/Alamy

Vikram Dodd Police and crime correspondent

More than half of Britain’s black police officers and staff suffered racial incidents from colleagues in the past year, a survey has found.

Those affected were much more likely to feel like outsiders and to want to leave, and many believed their bosses failed to punish wrongdoers, in effect creating a culture of impunity.

The survey was conducted for the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) as it struggles to address a race crisis facing British policing, with black Britons having less confidence and trust in the service and being less likely to join.

Black officers and staff were asked for their experiences of bullying, discrimination and micro-aggressions, and 1,614 responses were analysed. The survey defined micro-aggressions as “everyday slights, indignities, putdowns and insults”.

Half of respondents said they concealed some part of their identity or attributes at work, such as the music they listened to, their family heritage or origins, or their religious activities.

Two-thirds said they had considered leaving policing, with the most common reason for staying – given by 40% – being to try to fight for change from within.

Just over half said they had experienced “a negative race-related incident” involving colleagues in the previous 12 months. Nearly a quarter said this included racial discrimination, 15% said bullying and harassment, and 46% cited micro-aggressions.

Eight out of 10 incidents happened in the office, and the next most common setting for the discrimination was on patrol, then while socialising with colleagues.

The most common response to incidents was to do nothing, with a minority being reported. Those incidents that were reported were handled poorly, according to the survey. Seven out of 10 black police workers were unhappy with how their complaints of discrimination were handled, compared with 10% who were satisfied.

Those who experienced race-related incidents were three times more likely to say they felt like an outsider than those who did not.

Police chiefs’ claims to have created a whistleblowing culture are undermined by the finding that many of those who complained believed they were ostracised by their colleagues. The survey found that 49% felt excluded from social conversations or work activities because of race or ethnicity, against 42% who did not. But for those who reported an incident, the figure jumped to 75%.

Only one in five minority ethnic officers felt they had the same chance to progress as white colleagues.

The survey comes after years of police leaders failing to tackle deep-rooted and persistent racism in their ranks despite claims of reform.

Andy George, the chair of the National Black Police Association, said: “It’s been more about covering it up than dealing with racism. Discrediting victims who come forward, and rewarding discriminatory behaviour.

“The findings represent the widespread failure to adequately tackle racism despite bold words and initiatives … For too long, policing has protected those who discriminate, whilst victims are gaslighted and seen as the problem.”

Police chiefs have said they want to put their own house in order. The former Metropolitan police superintendent Leroy Logan said police leaders could not be trusted to reform the service and an independent inquiry was needed, similar to that which last month exposed racism within London’s fire brigade.skip past newsletter promotio

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“This report shows the toxicity of the culture. There needs to be an independent government report, with independent oversight. I do not see change unless it is taken out of police control,” he said.

Abimbola Johnson, the chair of an independent oversight board set up by police chiefs to reassure the public change was happening, said the survey findings were so stark that the foundations of policing’s legitimacy may be in jeopardy.

She said that if this was how black officers were being treated, it raised real concerns about what the public faced. Black people – especially men – face greater use of force and coercive powers.

Johnson said: “A police service that fails to treat its own black colleagues with dignity and fairness undermines the public’s confidence that it will treat black civilians with integrity and respect.”

Tyron Joyce, a deputy chief constable in the NPCC who is currently the most senior minority ethnic officer in the country, said: “The findings of this survey give us important insight into the experience some of our black colleagues and how they feel about policing. We now need to use this knowledge to bring about real change.

“Over the next three months, the police uplift programme, alongside policing, will be working with officers and staff to delve deeper into the findings and look for workable solutions we can put into practice through the police race action plan.”

The NPCC plans to set up focus groups to come up with suggested solutions, and to repeat the survey. The NPCC made no mention of the need for cultural change.

Last February the Guardian revealed that police chiefs had debated an admission of institutional racism but decided against it.

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