35. Memorandum submitted by
the Metropolitan Police Authority
THE COLOUR OF JUSTICE
The Metropolitan Police Authority (MPA) welcomes
the opportunity to offer this submission on the relationship between
young black people and the criminal justice system.
Part of the statutory responsibility of the
Metropolitan Police Authority is to ensure that the Metropolitan
Police Service (MPS) is publicly held to account for its performance.
Its scrutiny role is intended to contribute to securing an effective,
efficient and fair police service for London's communities.
The issue of disproportional interaction of
young black people with the criminal justice system is of major
concern to the Authority. It is an important indicator impacting
on the level of trust and confidence in the police amongst members
of London's diverse and changing communities.
The MPA has been addressing this issue on a
number of fronts. For example, black and minority ethnic people
in London are more likely than White people to experience police
stops and searches.
MPS stop and search data by 1,000 population
(FYtD April to September 2006) shows that Black people are five
times, and Asian people are two times more likely to be stopped
and searched than White people.
On the one hand the police power to stop and
search is a core responsibility and central to the identity of
the job of the police officer. It is a core aspect of policing
and defines the unique powers embodied in the role. However, the
use of the power particularly as it is experienced by young men,
especially those from Black and minority ethnic communities, continues
to be a flashpoint of the state of police-race relations, if not
the measure of race relations generally, in this country.
Following the Terrorism Act 2000, subsequent
terrorist attacks on 7 July and attempts on the 21 July, fundamental
questions around the relationship between race, policing (critically
stop and search) and the criminal justice system have intensified.
Given the seriousness of the issue, and the
consequent impact throughout the criminal justice system, the
MPA undertook a major scrutiny of the MPS stop and search practices
in 2003-04. This resulted in 55 recommendations, to MPS and other
criminal justice agencies. These 55 are being implemented and
cover such areas as leadership regulation, data analysis, monitoring
and supervision, training, and building community partnerships.
Stop and search practice is particularly important
because the repercussions continue right through to sentencing.
If you are a black person and break the law, your chances of getting
caught are much greater than white people doing exactly the same
We know a lot of adolescent deviant activities
are relatively minor and short-lived. However, if you are arrested
and enter the criminal justice system, this will have a long-term
negative impact on your lifestyle choices and career.
To reach a full understanding of the overrepresentation
of young Black people in the criminal justice system, it is recommended
that this Committee needs to look at the impact of racism in the
criminal justice system in three main ways: personal (or
individual) racism; systemic racism (or institutional)
and ideological (or cultural) racism. It is necessary to
see how these three main categories operate in the three main
areas of the criminal justice system: policing, judiciary and
the penal system.
It is therefore necessary to move beyond statistics
and look at the personal, systematic and ideological racism that
makes these statistics a reality. The MPA and MPS have committed
approaches to tackle these,
not least in its use of language in its response to high profile
counter terrorist cases. A critical issue arising from counter
terrorist cases is the changing landscape of what constitutes
Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) in the criminal justice system.
"BME" has in the past, often (but not exclusively) referred
to "Black African", "Black Caribbean', "Black
British". As a result "BME" is increasingly being
used as shorthand to include "Asian" and increasingly
by some parts of the media, to mean, specifically "Muslim".
In recognition of this inclusion, the Greater London Authority
uses the term Black Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME).
The MPA have consistently challenged key stakeholders
in their use of language. For example, terms such as "Muslim
terrorists" or "Islamic terrorists" are not only
inaccurate and cause offence, but do little to reassure all communities;
and, in some instances, often generate and exacerbate community
While perhaps a provocative label, the MPA considers
that the Committee needs to be cognizant of the historical role
and purpose in the evolution of the criminal justice system, which
is not unrelated to the above issue of racism.
Another explanatory factor put forward for the
disproportionality in stop and search rates is the recognition
that police exercise their discretion through the application
of what has been termed the prevailing notions of respectability.
As Sir John Woodcock, then HM Chief Inspector
of Constabulary, said back in 1992:
"What is happening to the police is that
a 19th Century institution is being dragged into the 21st Century.
Despite all the later mythology of Dixon, the police never were
the police of the whole people but a mechanism set up to protect
the affluent from what the Victorians described as the dangerous
While the context is different, the words are
apt within this discussion.
In attempting to grasp the nettle of the persistence
of disproportionality in stop and search rates, the MPA has raised
the question as to whether, in carrying out stop and search powers
are the police simply upholding "basic community values"
and the prevailing standards of respectable behaviour?
A police officer that patrols the boundaries
of respectability will find that his or her discretion favours
those who have greater access to the resources that confer respectable
status (P A J Waddington, 2003). Suspicious behaviour is anomalous
and tends to rely on a general background understanding of what
The widespread public perception of immigrants,
of Black and Asian people, as members of problematic marginal
sections of the population for example, amounts to a denial of
their respectability. And more often than not, police maintain
the respectable order through the mere assertion of their authority:
their conspicuous presence at certain times and places "moving
on" the disreputable, stopping Black people who do not "belong"
in certain neighbourhoods, and stopping and searching those who
attract their attention not in the expectation of detecting crime.
The MPA and MPS are committed to tackling these
critical yet complex issues throughout its work streams, moving
towards a cultural shift fundamentally established in a citizen
focus approach to policing.
The oversight and strategic direction from the Police Authority
is fundamental to appropriating such change.
Another counter perspective to those put forward
above is that the system is indeed colour-blind, and that young
Black people are overrepresented in the criminal justice system
because they simply commit more crime.
As the Committee is aware, there is a long history
of trying to make the connection between race and crime. From
theories of Social Darwinism to current media images, Black people
continue to be popularly portrayed as being more disposedand
more likely than othersto offend. On the basis of the social
and economic position of Black people in British society there
are also the structural theories of crimeincluding those
based on such concepts as anomie, social disorganisation, absolute
and relative deprivationthat would suggest that black people
are disproportionately likely to be found in "criminogenic"
contexts. While theories and mythic images abound, the MPA considers
that the actual evidence of disproportionate Black criminality
is weak. Police statistics measure the actions of the police and
that is all. Disproportionate stop and search rates are further
compounded by disparities in arrest, charge, bail, prosecution,
conviction and imprisonment rates, which are not the same as offending
The MPA is aware of no sustainable evidence
that BME groups are more prone to commit crime than white people.
Inferences about levels of criminality amongst different groups
cannot be consolidated by criminal justice statistics.
Data from arrest rates, for example, resulting
from stop and search shows the arrest rate differs little regardless
of whether the stop was of a White person or Black person. For
example, despite disproportionate BME stop and searches, arrest
rates for drug offences are generally proportional to their percentage
of the total populations.
Disproportionate minority arrests for drug possession
and distribution have fuelled perceptions by police and others
that race is an appropriate factor in the decision to stop or
search an individual, whilst statistics paint a different picture.
However, the existing data on the productivity of searches across
racial groups suggests to the MPA that too often stop and search
practice may have become a game of "search and you will find".
Police officers who disproportionately search more Black people
will arrest more black people than white people, not because of
differences in behaviour, but because they are stopping and searching
many more black people than white people.
Public myths and stereotypes to the contrary,
the MPA is aware of no evidence to contradict the view that the
African/Caribbean crime rate is much the same as that of the White
population and the rate for Asian people is very much lower.
In looking at official statistics, the characteristics
of offenders based on criminal records is limited by the fact
that only in a very small minority of offences that occur is an
offender identified and in a smaller percentage still does that
person end up convicted and sentenced to imprisonment. Home Office
figures indicate that the police records 24% of offences reported
to the British Crime Survey; in 26% of these recorded offences
an offender is identified; and half of these detected offences
result in a conviction. The end result of this attrition is that
only about 2% of offences result in the conviction of an offender
(Home Office 1999). In fact, in the case of BME groups, whilst
a higher proportion are arrested and remanded in custody when
taken to trial a higher proportion of BME people are acquitted
then white people.
In other words, official statistics, in isolation, cannot provide
a reliable index of either actual or relative involvement in crime;
it must be supported and contextualised by detailed analysis.
The official crime data only provides us with
a record of decisions taken by the criminal justice agencies.
They are the product of criminal justice agencies. In other words,
the statistics cannot be seen as a measure of offending as a phenomenon,
in any sense separable from the institutional practices of the
organisations that produce them.
While it is not useful for the purposes of this
submission to delve further into the complex issues of "statistical
discrimination", of the racialisation of crime data, or of
the criminalisation of Black Youth, the MPA feels it appropriate
to conclude discussion of this issue by drawing on the conclusions
of Professor Michael Keith:
"It is impossible to conceive of an objective
empirical reality of `black crime' which can be investigated by
social researchthis is because criminality, a chameleon
concept defined by the histories of legal whim and political fashion,
is at once both social reality and emotive myth.
Clearly, demographically concentrated both in
social areas and economic classes structured by material deprivation,
it is no surprise to find individuals from migrant minority backgrounds
committing individual crimes. But this does not mean that "black
crime" can be verified, subjected to scrutiny as a subject
category in its own right, without reference to the broader social,
political and moral context in which such scrutiny exists"
This submission cannot be regarded as anything
more than an introductory discussion on a topic of huge complexity
and importance. The MPA would certainly appreciate the opportunity
of making an oral presentation to further explore with Members
of the Committee the issues that need to be addressed and the
actions that need to be taken.
It is important for the Committee to know why
there is disproportionate interaction between young Black people
and the criminal justice system. And it is important to appreciate
the consequent costsin every sense of the wordin
order to determine how they can be mitigated.
Over the last few years, the Met have made massive
efforts and expended considerable resources to ensure a non-discriminatory
service. The attached appendix provides just a brief set of examples
of recent initiative undertaken by the MPA. But the MPA is aware
that a huge gap continues to exist between the institutional initiatives
and professional reality not only by the police but also the other
institutional sections of the criminal justice system and the
continuing day to day experiences of young Black people.
The Committee needs to recognise that the origins
of this continuing gap are embedded in the long legacy of deeply
polarised relations between the criminal justice system and young
Black people. The MPA continues to hear very strong and hostile
views about the criminal justice system from young Black people.
The levels of distrust, antagonism and cynicism
towards the criminal justice system need to be addressed with
some urgency. In restoring the damage to trust and confidence
on the part of all sectors of our diverse population in a fair,
effective and non-discriminatory criminal justice system, it is
recommended that the Committee recognise and strengthen the important
role that Police Authorities could and should play in publicly
holding the police to account for their performance, to ensure
an open and transparent accountability system, and for engaging
not just young Black people, but the public as a whole in ensuring
the criminal justice system reflect the values and principles
of equality and fairness.
213 See appendix attached. Back
See attached appendix Back
The concept, crimogenic, is a complex debate within public policy.
Useful articles such as "Crime as a Signal, Crime as a Memory"
from Journal for Crime, Conflict and the Media identify
key issues centred around crime as a social signifier-`people
interpret particular criminal incidents as indicators about the
range of dangers that exist in contemporary social life and that
might assail them" (Innes, M, Journal for Crime, Conflict
and the Media, ISSN 17411580). Back
See Race for Justice, CPS, Professor Gus John, 12 October,