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Case Studies

Walking A Thin Blue Line

From The Barnet & Potters Bar Times

The Macpherson Report on the inquiry into the murder of Stephen Lawrence has accused the Metropolitan Police Force of 'institutional racism'. ANNA WHITNEY and COLIN O'TOOLE assess the reaction and report on what happens next

Policing in Barnet is set to change drastically in the fallout from Sir William Macpherson's report on the inquiry into Stephen Lawrence's murder.

The report made 70 recommendations for change in the way the Metropolitan Police is run.

Colindale divisional commander Chief Superintendent Simon Humphrey has assured residents that police will show "greater sensitivity and quality investigation into racial crime and racial incidents".

He said: "We have got structures set up at Colindale to be able to give more attention to victims of those sorts of crimes. From a crime investigation point of view there's going to be greater training over a period of time."

Moves to improve the force are already under way. Officers are issued with a racial incident advice card telling them how to recognise a racial incident and what action to take. A programme on cultural awareness, community and race relations is also under way. Mr Humphrey said: "At the moment we do it with the Jewish community and we are trying to do it with other cultures.

"Barnet has a 20 per cent ethnic population split into many nationalities. It's not just a visible minority who need help. We have to reach out to them, and the expanding refugee population, and find out what their needs are within the community."

Mr Humphrey's ambition is to train his 800 staff in racial awareness by the end of the year. He holds his hands up to the charge of "institutional racism" in the report. "The police are bold enough to stand up and say we are at fault. But we all should sit up and listen to what's being said. In terms of allegations of being incompetent we are saying 'Yes, we got it wrong'. We need to train officers so they can give the best possible service to the public."

He aims to implement most of the recommendations in the next two months. "We have got to build on the trust of minority groups. There's a lot of work and it's going to take time but we are starting now. It isn't just an issue for police but the whole of society. I hope others will recognise this and start to do something as well."

THE TRAINING CENTRE...

Staff training in the Metropolitan Police is being co-ordinated by a Diversity Strategy.

This involves a community race relations programme and the integration of minimum effective training levels.

Instructors at the Peel Centre training school, in Aerodrome Road, Hendon, have already taken steps to improve recruits' racial awareness and key themes include:

responding to victims

crime prevention and the community

policing diversity

fair treatment for all

awareness of self, others, London and those served by the Met.

The course lasts 18 weeks, followed by ten weeks of street duties and occasional six-day courses for a total of two years. By April there will be an intake of 200 recruits every five weeks -- ensuring approximately 800 at Hendon at any time. Of these, eight per cent were from ethnic communities last year.

Inappropriate behaviour will not be tolerated and any recruit seen to be racist will be told to leave.

Plans are under way to introduce a fellowship for ethnic minority graduates, while racial incidents and "stop and search" will be tackled in a new two-day course.

Three days awareness training have been added for sergeants and new workshops will ensure detective trainers integrate the investigation of racial incidents.

Last year 140 recruits left out of a pool of 1,600 -- nine were deemed to be racist.

THE OFFICER...

No-one knows more about the 'canteen culture' of racism than Norwell Roberts.

The Met's first black police constable in 1967, the former detective sergeant was awarded the Queen's Police Medal for distinguished service before his retirement two years ago.

Sir Robert Mark, a former Metropolitan Police Commissioner, said he had done more than any other officer to promote good race relations. But that didn't necessarily cut any ice in the police canteen.

"Things didn't change much over 30 years because I was suffering racism right up to my last police station," said Mr Roberts, 53, who served his final six years at Golders Green.

"Golders Green was okay but there was a racist there. He would say things like 'I arrested three niggers last night' in front of me.'

"I would say most policemen were racist, but only to be popular."

Racial stereotypes even affected Mr Roberts' own detective work. "I thought that all pick-pockets were black. There were pictures of pick-pockets up on the wall and they were all black. I was surprised when we arrested some white pick-pockets."

Urgent lessons now have to be learned from the Macpherson report according to Mr Roberts.

"I don't know if quotas of black officers are a good idea. Then they are going to get any old black person to fill that job.

"The most important thing is that it has got to be taken seriously and not just glossed over. Racist policemen have to be disciplined and kicked out of the force. We don't need them."

Barnet Racial Equality Council director Emkay Magba-Kamara lives 15 minutes from where Stephen Lawrence died.

Of the report he said: "The whole thing is very, very worrying. But in Barnet we have a very refined and social kind of racism.

"We used to speak to new recruits in the borough about community and race relations. We visited Golders Green, West Hendon and Hendon stations. That was stopped abruptly almost a year after we started doing it and we didn't know why. Most recruits were coming from an area where there weren't many black people.

"The important thing about the report is that there's got to be powers for the Commission for Racial Equality to look into the police. At last we can go in and say 'Let's get our act together'."