What is your role within the IOPC, as a director, but also as a diversity and inclusion lead?
I am the Regional Director for London at the IOPC, and as part of that role I have oversight of City of London, British Transport Police and the Met. I have been at the IOPC for coming up to eight years now, and through some of the work I have done, I am also the strategic lead on discrimination. At the minute, we are doing racial discrimination as a thematic area for us, and I lead a bespoke team, in my organisation, who are doing that work. And obviously, when you lead the work on discrimination, there’s a natural bridge to equality, diversity and inclusion. So I do some work related to that within a policing context as well. Additionally, I sit on the board, as an independent member of the Race Action and Inclusion Plan for the NPCC, and on the national board for Diversity, Equality and Inclusion – also for the NPCC. As you’ll notice, I’m a person of colour. So for me, the issues around race, equality, diversity and inclusion, I’m really personally invested in.
How can police directly reduce racial disproportionality in the criminal justice system?
Wow, what a question. And if I had the answer, I’d… I wish I had the one answer. And obviously it’s not one answer, is it? These are decades-old issues around trust and confidence in policing. The murder of George Floyd and then the Black Lives Matter movement brought that discussion into the public glare in a way that it hadn’t been maybe for a number of years. But the issues – let’s be clear – have always been the same. There have been a series of difficult moments for policing recently; The Charing Cross matter, our Operation Hotton investigation, challenges around how serving officers are using WhatsApp groups as a safe space to air discriminatory, awful comments. Since Macpherson, there has been progress, but has there been enough progress? Still today, if you're black, you're around seven times more likely to be stopped and searched than if you're white, if you're Asian, it’s twice as likely – you extrapolate that to the use of force, you take it to Taser, you take it to COVID fines, the disproportionality exists, every rock you turn over. The expectations now for communities are not what they were at the time of Macpherson, which was around overt racism. You’ve got a new generation that don’t have the same tolerance or bias now. And quite rightly, I would argue. So the expectations now have moved, even to a higher level, for where policing needs to be. Whilst incremental change is maybe the path that we’re heading down, I would argue, really, we need to be thinking more in terms of step change. Communities don’t want to see the action, they want to see the change.
We are doing our bit, in terms of some of the work we’re leading on. For instance, our national stop and search report, which we published in April this year. But as an example, we then hand that off to policing, for them to implement the change. Policing has to take the baton and run with it, to deliver the actions, and then, ultimately, the change that communities want. But it’s such an endemic, difficult, decades-old issue, that it needs a system-wide response, with bold initiatives. All parts of the system who work in this area need to play their role in trying to tackle this beast of disproportionality, which is engrained, and has been engrained, for decades.
The Colour of Injustice Report states that a black person is 12 times more likely to be convicted of possessing cannabis than a white person. A community resolution can act, in a drug possession occurrence, where police find cannabis, or another drug, and they no longer have to arrest, interview or require an admission of guilt and the next involvement that individual will have will be with the drugs service, for education, harm reduction, and so on. What are your thoughts on community resolution?
So firstly, in relation to your point on the smell of cannabis. We see the issue of smell of cannabis being used as a sole ground for stop and search a lot of the time. It was never meant to be used as a sole ground, and as part of our recommendations within our national stop and search learning report, we’ve asked for that to be looked at. There’s a challenge for policing here, isn't there? Because if you stop and search individuals, for instance, we know young black men are disproportionately affected by stop and search, as a policing tactic and we know the majority of searches are done for drugs possession. So, if that then manifests itself into a higher percentage of cannabis possession, then we know that group is being disproportionately affected, and potentially then, disproportionately criminalised. So then your question on community resolution becomes really pertinent. Firstly, you have 43 different police forces across England and Wales, with very different demographics, different disproportionality rates and different issues. So where is the consistency in the use of community resolution or potentially diversionary schemes? How do you marshal 43 different, potentially slightly nuanced, views of the word into a consistent experience for these (maybe young) people that get caught up in this, and might be criminalised, when there might be another option? Absolutely I can see a thread through to trust and confidence because every interaction with the police is an opportunity to put a debit in the bank of trust and confidence or withdraw, so what’s it going to be? You’ve got the College of Policing, who have got good guidance out there already, of what a good model can look like. I think this is an area, actually, where policing has got a lot of good practice, but different practice.
There are a lot of forces that are doing a lot of innovation around here, and this is an area where I see policing really striving to get it right. But, if you're going to have good community scrutiny, you need to be thinking about a demographic. With the greatest of respect, if you want to do good scrutiny of stop and search, you need to have some of that ethnic diversity in the room when they're doing that. Another area which is often overlooked is young people. I’m always surprised by how frequently young people are overlooked as part of the community scrutiny. For community scrutiny to work effectively, it needs to be meaningful. It’s all well and good reviewing it, and then it’s, “So what?” isn't it? So I’ve reviewed this, I’ve given up my evening, to take part in your forum, I’ve got a concern, what happens next? It needs to have levers. Meaning that, if people have concerns, for instance, from footage they’ve reviewed, it could be stop and search, it could be use of force, it could be a number of things, they need to have levers they can pull which might mean something happens as a result of it. One other point from our stop and search report was trauma. I always remember a meeting with community members, where a mother was recounting a tale of her son, who had been mugged. No part of this thinking was to go to the police because he had been stopped and searched so many times; the consequence of his lack of trust in the police was that he remained a victim of crime. And who does that benefit? It doesn’t benefit him, it doesn’t benefit his mother, it doesn’t benefit police officers, who come to work to try and fight crime, to try and make a difference. And that’s the consequence of when trust and confidence kind of breaks down in communities.
One of our recommendations was for the College of Policing and for the NPCC, to commission research into the area of trauma. And they accepted it. What could be more powerful than having a national piece of research, which gives policing baseline to work from? If we can get that national understanding of the traumatising effect of repeated stop and searches, when there is no criminality, and certain groups are subject to it, then I think that could be a real game-changer in the understanding for national policing.
What is your view on police discretion?
Wherever you’ve got discretion – and we’ve seen it in stop and search, we’ve seen it in Taser – I think you have to guard against bias, and I think you have to guard against how that discretion is used, the frameworks within. We see it in some stop and searches, where it is affected by bias, but also by the situation. Sometimes, for instance, when you're doing stop and search, and you're looking at the issue of discretion, when you have to articulate the grounds, when you have to give the reasonable grounds and you’ve got to slow it down and say it, it provides a good check and balance for those officers, to make sure they're walking through the process. So they actually know themselves why they're stopping an individual, under what grounds and legislation. But the bigger question, I think, for national policing, is the system, the policy, the check and balance, around it. My approach at least is, what are the frameworks in place? What are the systemic checks and balances in place, for the exercise of discretion and, in these cases, to make sure that the system is mitigating against a risk of, for instance, bias or disproportionality? What is being done to support the front line, to get it right?
If you had a magic wand or three wishes, what would they be?
Three wishes would be for these three words to get embedded into policing culture, which would be equality, diversity and inclusion. I am a huge advocate for this. In my professional life, I deal with various issues – misogyny, all forms of discrimination - some of the most difficult issues facing policing are there in front of me. And there’s a link, a clear link, in terms of culture. I think the proper embedding, of equality, diversity and inclusion and cultures has been proven to work. You can’t get an inclusive culture by waving that magic wand. You need hard yards and the deliberate intentional leadership, to thread it right through, from top to bottom. Some forces are really progressive, open and brave and they're doing this work, other forces have a lot to catch up on. You only have to look across into the private sector to see the benefits of this work, when you create inclusive cultures. Because it helps with retention, it helps where there are issues around discrimination, it helps with the issues of belonging. You have to take it away from, I think, some of the technical language, which can become a barrier around equality, diversity and inclusion, and think of it in terms of principles of fairness, principles of inclusion. I think that would go a long way to address some of the challenges policing has around these endemic issues. It sounds straightforward, it’s not easy to do, but you need really strong leadership on it.
We often, at the centre, highlight areas of really shining practice. Have you got any examples that you’d like to share with us, that we can share onwards, through our networks?
Essex Police had an Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Conference, focused solely on that topic. The Chief Constable, Police Crime Commissioner, serving officers and community members were there; it was a celebration of diversity and honest conversations. Bedfordshire have also been really progressive with their community scrutiny for a number of years. So good practice is out there, and maybe my wishes will come true!