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Judicial Inquiry Into Stephen Lawrence

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Criminology
Wordcount: 1641 words Published: 18th Apr 2017

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It is argued by Shiner (2010) that the judicial inquiry into the events surrounding the death of Stephen Lawrence amounted to a public declaration of police culpability in not only the surrounding the specific case of Stephen Lawrence but a wider concern with the maltreatment of black and ethnic minority communities more generally. (Shiner 2010; 935). The Macpherson Report identified that the combination of three core deficiencies within the police which contributed to an environment fostering racism: (1) professional incompetence, (2) institutional racism and (3) a failure by senior police officers in exercising their public duty. (Macpherson 1999: 46.1). The Report considered that their findings with regard to institutional racism were symptomatic with not only the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) but with other Police Services and institutions countrywide. (Macpherson 1999; 6.39). It is agreed by a number of academics that the way in which the police handled the Lawrence investigation were not particularly racist against the Lawrence family but rather it was symbolic of the way in which the police were treating working class families with a sheer lack of understanding on the part of the police of the experiences and expectations of the black community. (Chan 1996; 115-119 and Phillips and Bowling 2007).

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The important aspect to emerge from the Report was the impact it would have on the police as an institution in that although Stephen Lawrence was not the first or last unresolved racist murder, it was noted by Reiner (2000) that it crystallised ‘the disastrous ebbing away of black confidence in the police’. (Reiner 2000; 79). It represented a turning point for policing in that it prompted the most significant review of the relationship between policing and ethnic communities, questioning how policing could be reflective of the community it serves. (Bowling and Phillips 2007; 546). The Macpherson reported noted some 70 recommendations aimed at improving this relationship between the police and ethnic communities which were implemented in the aftermath of the delivery of the Report. (Home Affairs Committee 2007). A key reforming recommendation was Recommendation 61 which required police to keep records of all ‘stop and search’ activities carried out by the police which would contain the information of ethnicity which in turn could be used to determine whether the police were stopping any particular ethnicity disproportionately. (Macpherson 1999; 47.61). The effect of requiring police officers to record the informal aspects of their use of ‘stop and search’ was one way in which the police could be held to account publically if they disproportionately stopped any ethnicity over another. Additionally, it had sought to reduce the arbitrariness of the use of ‘stop and search’ by ensuring the police would only use the power appropriately when they had to record each time who they stopped. (Saunders and Young 2010; 97 – 101). One of the core concerns of the Macpherson Report identified that the police in practice were in effect ‘over-policing’ particular ethnic communities and by requiring the police to report on their use of discretionary police powers would create an accountability mechanism within which the public could scrutinise the use of police powers. (Macpherson 1999; 6.34). It held the potential of becoming the ‘yardstick’ indicator of policing.

However, it is important to note that whilst the Macpherson Report clearly set about to place policing within a new agenda of accountability and openness to the community in which they served, it has been argued by Savage that the police as an institution has been able to ‘undermine, frustrate and withstand’ any external proposals for reform. (Savage 2003; 171). In addition, it is important to understand the internal police perception of the Macpherson Report in that their reaction was deeply divided between senior ranking officer and ‘rank and file’ field officers. (Rowe 2004). The senior officers were more open to change and accepted the findings of the Macpherson Report, however, the rank and file field officers protested that the Report was an affront to their professionalism in exercising their public duty. (McLaughlin 2007). Media reporting in 2009 from across a section of sources attempt to argue that the problems emerging from the Macpherson Report were now no longer relevant ten years after Macpherson due to the reforms implemented from the Report. In January 2009 the chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, Trevor Phillips wrote in the Daily Mail that the police were no longer institutionally racist. (19 January 2009). Additionally, Jack Straw who was the Secretary of State for Justice also backed the claim that the police had moved on by addressing the problems established in the Macpherson Report. (The Guardian, 23 February 2009). At the tenth anniversary of the Macpherson Report, the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police Service, Sir Paul Stephenson, also told the media that the police had made significant progress in addressing the concerns of the Macpherson Report. (The Guardian, 24 February 2009).

There a number of ways or indicators to assess how successful the Macpherson Report was at delivering a more open and accountable police force since its delivery over ten years ago. The London School of Economics (LSE) through its Mannheim Centre for Criminology commissioned a large number of national surveys of the police between 2002 and 2004 which could act as a good indicator of whether reform was successful. In their report the authors conclude that a number of successes can be claimed since the delivery of the Macpherson Report. (Foster et al 2005). In specific the LSE noted that the Macpherson Reported represented an important mechanism for change which was evidenced through improvements in police responses to hate crimes and in the recording and monitoring of racist incidents. (Ibid; vii – ix). Policing structures now allowed for dedicated teams of officers for racial crimes who undertook specialist training in developing specific skills for investigating and managing racial crimes. However, the LSE Report did note that many officers view these teams with scepticism and often marginalised the officers within them. (Ibid; 92). This highlights that whilst efforts were made at reforming the institutional structure towards creating specialist teams for specific crimes affecting ethnic minorities many existing officers did not support this development. (Buchanan 2006; 173-174). Additionally, the LSE Report noted considerable improvements in murder investigations with considerable improvements on communication between the police and local ethnic communities. It was the creating of community liaison officers which represented a positive change towards creating and fostering an environment of respect between the police and local ethnic communities. These officers allowed the facilitation of police policy to be communicated to local ethnic minorities and also for the police to take account of any concerns within the local ethnicity minority community. Interestingly, all police forces across the UK have engaged training officers in Community Race Relations to develop existing and new officers skills set in being aware of the diverse cultures and experiences of minority communities within the UK.

An important issue raised by the LSE Report was that some police officers within the survey believed that the Macpherson Report was wrong in concluding on the racism within policing and tended to view the problems raised by the Report as being primarily around incompetence. (Foster et al 2005; 33). The danger here is that there is a risk that the real message surrounding the racism issue within policing can become lost within the institutional structure when some officers only focus on the actual incompetence findings within Macpherson. The LSE Report also found that the police use of language and their attempts to abolish the use of racist language amongst officers were becoming successful. (Ibid; 43). This approach was achieved through continuous education of new recruits and retraining schemes for existing officers, the key to the success of this hinged upon the senior officers creating an environment within policing which did not accept the use of racist language.

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Although the Macpherson Report opened the possibility of effecting real change within policing there still exists a number of key concerns. The concerns revolve around two core issues, firstly police use of ‘stop and search’ powers and secondly the unsuccessful recruitment of sufficient officers from ethnic communities in order to make the police more reflective of the community it serves. The reporting structure recommended by Macpherson shows that a high proportion of people from the Black community are disproportionately stopped by the police under the ‘stop and search’ powers. This represents that the database of all stop and searches contain 20% more black people than Asian or White people. (Bennetto 2009; 22). Whilst the Black community is over represented in the criminal justice system for criminal offences it does not justify a disproportionate use of police ‘stop and search’ power. Additionally, a core failing has been the problem with recruiting officers from within the ethnic communities. In an investigative journalism piece by the BBC’s Mark Daly (2003) highlights that a significant problem is that there is a serious underrepresentation within senior ranking positions of ethnic minorities which impact upon policy and public perception.


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