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Artillery Row

Even cops are innocent until proven guilty

A new report does not prove that the police are racist

I’d never given much thought to the Masons until I met a loose-lipped member of their order. A decade ago, I was working as a labourer on a renovation project for a hotel in Kensington. I’d got off on the wrong foot by carrying tools through the lobby rather than the side entrance — but soon learned the important lessons, foremost among them that smoking was a legitimate reason to down tools and break.

It was in the designated emphysema acquisition zone that I got talking to a big fellow, the head of a gang of men on site. He talked about his storied past in the National Front and then his present as a Masonic brother. He mentioned two things that stuck with me. First, his lodge was working on a charitable endeavour to buy the NHS kit that could target and kill lung cancer tumours with a laser. This gave me ample confidence to remain in the smoking area. Second, there were a lot of “cops” in the Masons, and that they were “good blokes actually, like us”. This knocked that confidence.

The claims of racism are not nearly as robust

Ten years on from that encounter, and decades on from the Macpherson report, it’s hard to imagine such a conversation repeated today. My experience of the police is that they are now rarely seen, let alone seen being racist or criminal. When we do catch sight of them, it tends to be for public stunts in which they claim being offensive is an offence. They are caught brimming with smiles, being gyrated against at the Notting Hill carnival or paraded up and down the latest LGBT Zebra crossing. They stand idle as extremists blockade roads and deface our heritage, but are quick to bundle Christian street preachers into vans. Their social media managers threaten Tweeters with arrest for exercising free speech, yet remain relaxed about sectarian hatred on the streets of Leicester. The old bully boys who, if Orgreave is anything to go by, were almost as keen to smash in a white head as they were a black one, looked from the outside to have cleared out. 

Baroness Casey’s recent review of the Metropolitan Police appears to have blown up that assumption. The Met appointed Casey to conduct a review of its own culture and behavioural standards following the rape and murder of Sarah Everard by then-serving officer Wayne Couzens. The nature of Couzens’ crime was in itself so despicable as to warrant a review — if not a trip to the gibbet — but the fact he was known to his colleagues as “the rapist” removed all doubt that there was sickness to be exorcised at the heart of the force. 

Her report has found “many claims of sexual misconduct, misogyny, racism and homophobia were badly mishandled” — findings which Commissioner Sir Mark Rowley has described as appalling. He echoed the report’s finding that within the Met there are “patterns of unacceptable discrimination that clearly amount to systemic bias”.

Taking at face value that the reported incidents of sexual harassment are just that, as opposed to the occasional unsolicited pat on the back or tap of the knee, “badly mishandled” may be understating it. Casey’s report cites 24 occasions in which the same officer had been investigated twice or more for sexual misconduct — but that these prior allegations were not considered as part of the complaint process. Complaints are logged on systems that the people who should know about them can’t access. There are several examples given in which officers have been subject to five, six or even seven misconduct proceedings, and the adjudicators have found there had been no case to answer in every instance. If the Met are turning a blind eye internally, it might go some way to explaining away their light touch approach to their fellow travellers in Islamic grooming gangs. 

The claims of racism are not nearly as robust. The report notes, “In every year of data, Black, Asian, and Mixed Ethnicity officers and staff are substantially more likely than their White colleagues to receive a misconduct allegation … there remains evidence of racial disparity throughout the misconduct system: White officers and staff continue to fare better than their Black, Asian or Mixed Ethnicity counterparts. It cites “testimony from Black, Asian and Mixed Ethnicity officers and staff” to develop the idea that this disparity is a result of systemic racism.

A sacked officer earned two weeks in jail per George Floyd meme

The fact that in most years non-white officers are subject to more internal misconduct allegations, and therefore have sanctions justified, is not proof of anything at all. The report notes that in 2017–18 Asian officers were the subject of fewer allegations and sanctions than their white colleagues. Taking the outcome-based approach, we should assume that in the course of this year there was an explosion of anti-white bias. Or perhaps, in that year white officers acted in such a way as to be accused of misconduct in disproportionately higher numbers than Asian officers. Though the report doesn’t offer this information, it’s a safe bet that a disproportionate number of all misconduct allegations and sanctions were levelled at male officers. It would be idiotic, though, to characterise this as misandrist or prejudiced.

Referring to Regulation 13 of the Police Regulations 2003, a protocol that allows for removing probationary officers found unsuitable to be police officers, more easily than would be the case by the formal misconduct process — we see the same outcome-based assessment again. The report bemoans that “compared to the 2018–2022 cohort of PCs and DCs with two or less years of service, Black officers are 126 per cent more likely to be subject to a Regulation 13 case than White officers, Asian officers are 123 per cent more likely and Mixed Ethnicity officers are 50 per cent more likely.” It goes on to state that a minority of those against whom Regulation 13 is exercised are dismissed, but many more resign, and that “the data shows that female and BME probationers are disproportionality resigning”.

Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. The idea that these rainbow helmeted, trans flag-wrapped-car driving, Tweet policing officers who made no attempt to put down the BLM riots — but were foaming at the mouth to get mobhanded with counter-protesters — take off their gay pride hats and put on Klan hoods requires a bit more than a handful of anonymous testimonials. The fact that in most years white officers are accused of misconduct less than their colleagues, is no more proof of racism than Usain Bolt repeatedly winning the 100M dash is proof that Bolt’s team strapped invisible lead weights to his competitors’ ankles before the starting gun was fired.

This is the organisation that in 2020 agreed to a 40 per cent BAME recruitment target, and for the past eight years has been jumping BAME entrants straight to superintendent level. In 2020 a sacked West Mercia police officer was jailed for sharing jokes about George Floyd on WhatsApp. He posted ten memes, earning him two weeks in jail per meme — it defies credulity to say a police force that fires bad comics and a justice system that imprisons them is institutionally racist. 

I do not doubt that the Metropolitan Police, and the police more widely, harbour incompetents, idiots and otherwise venal individuals. Most people who can count a few run-ins with the police will say as much. I will go out on a limb and say that the door-knocking, pronoun-toting, Twitter-monitoring thought policers probably aren’t seething with racist discrimination. If they are, at least, this report doesn’t prove it. 

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