Select Committee on Home Affairs Written Evidence

4.  Memorandum submitted by the Association of Chief Police Officers of England, Wales and Northern Ireland (ACPO)


  Figures show that young black people proportionately have more contact with the criminal justice system than white people. The police have been accused of dealing with certain minority ethnic groups disproportionately, particularly from the perspective of Stop and Search. This paper considers a number of issues relating to disproportionality and section 95 data. The paper importantly also considers the social and economic environment impacting on young black people and its links to offending behaviour and the contrasting crime patterns of young black people versus young white people.


  1.1  It is of significant importance to consider firstly some of the reasons why young black people are disadvantaged before entering the criminal justice system. One could argue that by the time they come to the notice of the police they have already suffered as individuals as a result of wide ranging factors which research suggests leads to offending behaviour.

  1.2  Statistics suggest that young black people are more likely to be raised by single parent families, live in poorer housing conditions, lack support from statutory educational and health services with higher levels of exclusion from schooling.

  1.3  Residential segregation by race exists within the UK and is believed to be one of the most significant factors in contributing to the overall ill-being of ethnic minorities in Britain. The concentration of black people in the most deprived disadvantaged areas across the UK creates a sense of inferiority which is also reflected within the labour market where young black people are more likely to work in lower status jobs and semi and unskilled employment.

  1.4  Under-achievement of black boys in education is a serious concern, replicating the pattern in the prisons where the majority of inmates suffer from poor reading ability.

  1.5  Whilst the Home Affairs Committee is seeking to focus on black afro Caribbean young people the range of different backgrounds and cultures included in the term "black" is wide. The experiences, behaviours and offences committed for instance by Somalians, Rwandans, Iraqis differs from those of afro Caribbeans although under the current methods of collecting this data under the 16+1 system, these sub-groups will not be identified. The same applies to the term "White Europeans".

  1.6  The UK as a consequence of racial inequalities during the past three decades experienced a number of black uprisings including the Brixton, Toxteth, Hansworth and more recently the Oldham and Bradford riots which have significantly impacted on the way we police. As a result, huge investment has been made in understanding black communities and their associated cultures. The police increasingly act as honest brokers within communities. The Stephen Lawrence murder and subsequent inquiry has additionally impacted not only on the methods used in investigation but on the methods used by the police in dealing with black victims of crime.

  1.7  The debate on race, equality and investigation is shifting, principally provoked by the current terrorist situation but also by discussion on how far mainstream society should cater for the needs of minorities. Media coverage and the way minorities are portrayed in popular culture can increase hostility and a reluctance for allowances to be made for disadvantage.


  2.1  A vast range of initiatives have been undertaken by police forces to assist officers and staff to understand the cultural differences of black people. The return to community and neighbourhood policing and the introduction of a range of initiatives to defuse community tensions are raising the confidence of black communities in our ability to police, and in encouraging victims of crime to report to the police. The establishment of Independent Advisory Groups to challenge policies and working practices of the police has also been a successful initiative ensuring that the police are accountable for their actions and "alive" to community perceptions and needs. The introduction of the Independent Police Complaints Commission and the use of custody lay visitors is also significant.

  2.2  The police have undertaken a significant amount of work in enabling members of the public to report hate crime. "True Vision" which has been adopted by 37 police forces enables individuals to pass on information or intelligence to the police through third parties and encourages individuals to report hate crimes. The self-reporting packs are available at police stations and designated reporting sites within the community. The ACPO Hate Crime Manual is regularly revised to ensure that police officers receive the best possible guidance in dealing with and the recording of hate crime incidents. The number of prosecutions for racially aggravated offences has significantly increased.

  2.3  A distinction has to be made between black people as victims and black people as offenders or suspected offenders. While undoubtedly considerable progress has been made in raising the confidence of black victims, little progress has been made in reducing the disproportionate number of black people arrested and convicted. As Trevor Phillips recently said, "A black boy is still more likely to end up in a prison cell than a university lecture theatre."


  3.1  There is a concern within the police that the huge focus on stop and search has masked the disproportionality in other parts of the criminal justice process including arrest rates, cautions, custody decisions and DNA retention, not to mention rates of imprisonment. Before exploring the issues around disproportionality there are a number of key assumptions to consider:

    —  Disproportionality as it is currently reported looks at outcomes of an action or activity for different population groups and compares it against the resident population.

    —  Whatever the reasons the perceptions and experience of Stop and Search are adversely affecting relationships with certain communities. The focus must be equally on the quality of the interaction as on justifying reasons for stop and search.

    —  The term disproportionality has become shorthand for discrimination; effectively it has become a proxy indicator for discrimination.

    —  Resident population based on census data is an unreliable control group against which to compare those who group which might be involved in street encounters with police.

    —  Disproportionality in Stop and Search is not only confined to ethnicity it also occurs in relation to age, gender and social class.

  3.2  There is a wide body of academic research that looks at the issues behind disproportionate outcomes particularly in Stop and Search, including Bowling, Waddington, Fitzgerald, Quinton and Miller. The Home Office through the Police Research series has also produced research documents including:

    —  Stops and Searches on Crime and Community.

    —  Upping the PACE.

    —  The view of the public on Stops and Searches.

    —  Police Stops, decision making and practice.

    —  Profiling populations available for Stops and Searches.

    —  Managing the use and impact of searches.

  3.3  One of the observations from the research is helpful to this consideration of disproportionality. It states that "while comparisons between the number of recorded stops and searches and the numbers in the general population remain important in describing the overall experience of different ethnic groups, they do not provide a good basis for assessing ethnic biases in officers' street level decisions to carry out stops and searches."

  3.4  Searches generally do not occur evenly across any force area but tend to be targeted on particular sub-areas and highly localised hot spots, linked to our intelligence and briefing. The individuals and groups in these areas will be varied in terms of their age structure and socio-economic characteristics. It is becoming recognised that the reasons for these variations in searches are multiple and include economic and social factors as well as policing practice and individual officer behaviour.

  3.5  There is a belief amongst some in the debate around disproportionality and discrimination that more research is needed to explain this issue. However, past experience suggests that such a piece of research is unlikely to answer the question conclusively.

  3.6  The most recent data published for what is known as Section 95 data relates to 2004-05 and was published in 2006. The data highlights disproportionate outcomes from victimisation through to sentencing and prison population. The overall summary of Section 95 data states:

    The data reported show that progress continues to be made in relation to the proportion of staff from Black and Miniority Ethnic (BME) groups working in the criminal justice system (CJS). However, other areas remain largely unchanged with BME groups continuing to be disproportionately represented in the CJS.

    When interpreting the data, it is important to note that people from BME groups are often disadvantaged in social and economic terms compared to the White population. This disadvantage relates to factors such as housing, education and employment; factors that are in part predictive of offending behaviour and general involvement in the criminal justice process.

    Data concerning ethnicity and crime needs to be treated with extreme caution because the data may be inaccurate or missing altogether (as many crimes may be unreported or the ethnicity of the perpetrator unknown). However, evidence suggests that the imbalance is not simply the result of people from BME groups committing a disproportionate number of crimes. There is not as yet, sufficiently robust data and evidence from which to reach definite conclusions as to the cause, or causes, of the disproportionate representation of BME groups observed in the data described. What is clear from the data is that disproportionality continues to be a key issue meriting urgent investigation.

  3.7  ACPO are actively engaged in the review of Section 95 data, however there are a number of key points to be made:

    —  16+1 is not a complete picture of our communities. There is considerable pressure from policing to change and expand 16+1. This is not a data set that is actually owned by the police, 16+1 is part of the census and to move forward requires a number of departments and agencies to move.

    —  The accuracy of census data is questioned by a number of observers; given the numbers in respect of some communities this could have an impact on the published data.

    —  The incomplete nature of the data. In relation to Stop and Search it is appreciated amongst practitioners that this data set is one of the most imprecise we deal with, some of this is due to the way the data is collected, individual interactions on the street often officer initiated, and the time lag and accuracy issues in processing the data.

  3.8  ACPO must try to sensitively address the issue of disproportionality being used as shorthand for discrimination. It is important to understand that even in proportionate use of a power or outcomes, there can still be discrimination, and by overly focusing on proportionality as a concept, we may be missing discrimination.

  3.9  To take these issues forward we need, as a Service to answer the following questions:

    —  Are officers in the right place—(properly briefed, operating with up to date intelligence, in the right locations at the right time).

    —  Are they doing things in the right way—(is the use of powers legal, is the conduct and behaviour appropriate, activity checked and audited and training in place).

    —  Do they have the support of the community (does the community understand and support what is taking place).

  3.10  If we can answer all the above questions and the resulting outcome is still disproportionate, then disproportionality is due to factors over which the police have little or no control such as poverty, housing, school exclusions etc.

  3.11  Arrests arising from stop and search are only a small proportion of total arrests and therefore there are other factors which direct officers to identify black people as suspects. Most arrests come from calls from the public, information from witnesses and the actions of door staff, CCTV operators, store detectives, security guards and others involved in identifying offending. It is reasonable to assume that decisions made by this group may well be affected by a person's ethnic appearance or stereotyping.


  4.1  Ethnic monitoring is still not complete in key parts of the court process and the failure for instance to monitor ASBOS for ethnicity and the lack of an impact assessment in respect of ASBOs is an example of a lack of understanding of how new laws may disproportionately affect different members of the population.


  5.1  In contrast to white young people it is evident that the crimes committed by young black people differ. Gang culture is increasing within black young people, their reliance on emotional peer support in the absence of parental or community role models is a possible factor in creating the gang culture environment. Involvement in drugs is seen as a means to elevating themselves up the economic ladder securing "respect" in the process. The prevalence of the use of guns and knives as weapons also contrasts with white young people who are more likely to use alcohol fuelled bodily force to assault their victims.

  5.2  That said it is evident that many of the issues affecting young black men in the UK are also prevalent in white young working class men who are increasingly subject to segregation, poor educational attainment, low self-esteem and chaotic relationships.

  5.3  Community based policing styles in the UK have done much to improve the relationship between young black youth and the police. Greater accountability and openness, the adoption of race equality schemes and the huge part played by the Black Police Association have ensured the mistakes of the past have not been repeated, but levels of offending still appear too high.

  5.4  There are a range of innovative approaches being used in areas such as Hackney and South Manchester to deal with the problems of black gang violence. Some of these use lessons from the USA, many involve local faith groups and crucially the young people themselves. These are long-term initiatives which need long-term investment. Short-term crude performance targets can often act as a barrier to these type of approaches. There is an inevitable accusation that resources are being concentrated in "problem" areas but this has to be defended.


  6.1  ACPO supports the review of S95 data but believes a more dynamic process is required to hold all criminal justice agencies to account for performance. In respect of stop and search the current focus on disproportionality related to residential population needs to be re-examined and greater emphasis given to the quality of the interaction.

  6.2  Greater support for community based initiatives involving faith groups and black role models to combat gang culture:

    —  Increased educational and welfare support for young black people to the age of 21.

    —  Incentives for young people to find and remain in employment.

    —  Greater emphasis on prevention and rehabilitation initiatives as opposed to enforcement leading to increased criminalisation of young black people (highlighted by Professor Rob Morgan).

    —  Increased discretion for police officers to deal with individuals without necessarily sending them down the criminal justice route.

  6.3  Continued use of targeted enforcement activity against gang violence and gun crime.

Peter Fahy

Chief Constable, Cheshire Constabulary

ACPO lead on Race and Diversity

February 2007

REFERENCES AND CONTRIBUTIONS FROM:  DCC Craig Mackey—ACPO lead on stop and search.

  David M Engstrom—The Economic Detriments of ethnic segregation in post-war Britain.

  DfEE Research brief No 186.

  CJS Sec 95 data 2004-05.

  Press room publication on "helping young black people change their lives after school exclusion".

  CJS Race unit—The experiences of young black men as Victims of Crime.

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2007
Prepared 15 June 2007