Select Committee on Home Affairs Written Evidence

35.  Memorandum submitted by the Metropolitan Police Authority



  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 thing.

  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,[213] 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 tensions.


  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 classes."

  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 is "normal".

  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.[214] 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 disposed—and more likely than others—to offend. On the basis of the social and economic position of Black people in British society there are also the structural theories of crime—including those based on such concepts as anomie, social disorganisation, absolute and relative deprivation—that would suggest that black people are disproportionately likely to be found in "criminogenic"[215] 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 rates.

  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.[216] 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 research—this 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" (Keith 1993:278)."


  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 costs—in every sense of the word—in 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.

December 2006

213   See appendix attached. Back

214   See attached appendix Back

215   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

216   See Race for Justice, CPS, Professor Gus John, 12 October, 2003. Back

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