Merseyside Police are ‘institutionally racist’, says Crime Commissioner Emily Spurrell
Merseyside Police have been branded ‘institutional racists’ by local Police and Crime (PCC) Commissioner Emily Spurrell in an interview that appears to have taken the force by surprise.
Ms Spurrell, who was elected to the post in May 2021, said while the ‘vast majority’ of officers were ‘incredibly dedicated’ and ‘non-racist’ – the institution had been ‘designed by a certain group of people’ and “does not take into account” the experiences of black people and ethnic minorities.
Merseyside Police Chief Serena Kennedy flatly denied the force was institutionally racist, while the Merseyside Police Federation, representing rank and file officers, said Ms Spurrell’s comments were “deeply disappointing”.
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However, anti-racism campaigner Chantelle Lunt, herself a former Merseyside police officer and now founder of the Merseyside Black Lives Matter (BLM) Alliance and Operation Withdraw Consent, said the comments did not go far enough and exonerate individual officers from the responsibility for a “racist culture”. “in strength.
Ms Spurrell made the comments during a chat with Policing TV journalist Danny Shaw, who asked: ‘Do you accept that Merseyside Police are institutionally racist?’
She replied: “Yes. Yes. And I had this conversation with my boss [Serena Kennedy]. Because I think when you look at the definition of institutional racism, it’s not about individual agents. I know the Mersesyide police, absolutely, the vast majority are incredibly dedicated, not racist, you know, to me, they’re absolutely committed to serving the public, whoever they are.
“And very often they will go out of their way to engage with minority communities. So the definition of institutional racism is not about calling individual agents racist, it’s about saying, as an institution , like with many institutions across the country, it was designed by a certain group of people, and it doesn’t take into account how, you know, black people and ethnic minorities might experience things and how they might be treated.”
The comments came as part of a discussion involving Ms Spurrell, Dorset PCC David Sedwick and Hertfordshire PCC David Lloyd on various policing topics, including efforts to tackle institutional racism. Mr Lloyd and Mr Sedwick said they did not believe their respective police forces were institutionally racist.
Today, Constable Kennedy responded to Ms Spurrell’s comments, telling ECHO: ‘I categorically do not believe that Merseyside Police are institutionally racist. The history and impact of racism on the services of police and the damage this has caused to communities and colleagues is clear.
“There has been a lot of work done nationally and locally to understand and address this issue. We know that the police, like society, are not free from racial discrimination, bias and disproportionality. always in certain policies and processes, and we take action to change that. We collectively want to improve, we want to progress, we want to be better. We are not institutionally racist.
A Merseyside Police Federation spokesman said: “It is deeply disappointing to hear from Merseyside Police and Crime Commissioner Emily Spurrell that Merseyside Police are institutionally racist. We refute that statement.
“Our members serve Merseyside to the best of their abilities, running into danger to help members of the public in an emergency. Our members serve a diverse community and are proud to do so.”
Ms Lunt, from Halewood, resigned from Merseyside Police after making formal complaints of racism and sexism, which the force said were investigated and resulted in ‘learning and advice’ for multiple agents. She told ECHO that Ms Spurrell’s comments deviated from the official definition of institutionalized racism as set out in the 1999 Macpherson Report – a damning investigation into the failings of the Metropolitan Police when investigating the racially motivated murder of black teenager Stephen Lawrence.
She told ECHO: “While Emily Spurrell suggesting Merseyside Police are institutionally racist seems like a headline and a step in the right direction, we really need to look at what she said. She chose aspects of the definition of institutionalized racism to suggest that it is a problem within all organizations and that there is no individual culpability, but it is a systemic problem at the political level.
“However, she omitted key elements of Macpherson’s actual definition of institutional racism.”
Ms Lunt said Sir William Macpherson defined the term as “the collective failure of organizations to provide appropriate and professional services to people because of their colour, culture or ethnic origin”. He also described it as existing “in processes, attitudes and behaviors that amount to discrimination through unconscious bias, ignorance, recklessness or racist stereotypes that disadvantage ethnic minorities”.
Ms Lunt added: “I feel like Emily Spurrell goes to great lengths here to assure officers they’re not racist, that’s the system. But it’s both the system and Officers are racist and the system protects them, and I’m by no means saying that all officers are racist, but there is a culture within the police where black people are both missed as victims and over-surveyed, and targeted and watched as crime suspects.
“Recent data from the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) shows that Merseyside has the second highest number of stops and searches, and we still know they are used disproportionately against the black community. , although this rate has been falling lately.
“Seems like this is more of a headline soundbite and I’d like to see what actions will follow this half admission of institutional racism. What are you going to do about the culture? What going to make merseyside police make sure black victims of crime are served by the police service – because it is a service – and how are they going to register the ‘black figure’ of crime , that is, all those people who have completely lost faith in the police and refuse to report crimes to them.
“That quote didn’t go far enough in my opinion.”
Contacted by ECHO about the interview, Ms Spurrell said in a statement: ‘If we are serious about tackling racism in our institutions, we must first acknowledge the scale of the problem. Racism and inequality permeate all our public establishments.
“We can see that from the outcomes for black and minority ethnic people from all walks of life, whether it’s the disproportion in arrests, the overrepresentation in our criminal justice system and in prisons, or disparity in educational outcomes, job opportunities and health care.
“Acknowledging structural racism absolutely does not mean our police and staff are racist. It means recognizing that our systems and processes were designed by a certain group of people in a different time when the make-up of society was different. It does means acknowledging that some of these structures are outdated and not working for all of our communities now.
“There is no doubt that this is an uncomfortable and difficult conversation. However, I believe that by acknowledging it in this way, by admitting that there are still problems, our communities will have more confidence that we are committed to deal with it and change for the better.
“That’s not to say we’re still where we were when the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry Report was released in 1999. Huge progress has been made since then.
“But we must continue to be actively anti-racist if we are to regain trust, especially among black communities. That means being open and honest, owning the issue and taking proactive steps to redress the balance.
“Merseyside Police, under the leadership of the Chief Constable, has already taken significant steps to tackle disproportionality. This includes ensuring officers and staff are more representative of the communities they serve, create a dedicated diversity, equality and inclusion team, reduce disproportionality in stops, and enable public scrutiny of the stop and search from body-worn camera footage .
“All of this is positive work. We are taking great steps in the right direction and I welcome the Chief Constable’s commitment to go even further. I reviewed it disproportionately in my review meeting public and she has been unequivocal in her commitment to continuing to embed the right culture in Merseyside Policing.
“But we still live in an unequal society. The police are embedded in this society. This means – like all walks of life and all institutions – that we continue to address issues of discrimination, inequality and disparity .”