Policing 21 years on from the Macpherson Report

On 22nd April 1997 Stephen Lawrence was murdered by a group of white youths in an attack that was unprovoked and racist. The Metropolitan Police’s actions at the scene and in the later investigation were heavily criticised due to their incompetency and institutional racism. It was only in January 2012 that two of Stephen’s murderers, Gary Dobson and David Norris, were found guilty of his murder.

On 31st July 1997 the UK’s home secretary, Jack Straw, ordered Sir William Macpherson to carry out an inquiry into the investigation and wider problems that arose from the death of Stephen Lawrence. The Macpherson report was published on the 24th February 1999. Amongst its findings was one key statement, that the Metropolitan Police’s investigation had been “marred by a combination of professional incompetence, institutional racism and a failure of leadership by senior officers”.

The inquiry also found that this institutional racism was not a problem that was exclusive to the Metropolitan Police and instead it affected police services across the country. To begin to right the wrongs that were committed in the tragic case of Stephen Lawrence’s murder, the report outlined 70 recommendations for police forces across the UK. These recommendations covered themes like openness and accountability, a new definition of ‘racist incident’, the recruitment and retention of minority ethnic staff and many more.

Following the publishing of the Macpherson report on race and justice, a range of promises were made by police forces across the country. One such promise was police chiefs vowing to make their police forces look like the communities they served by having the same proportion of ethnic minorities as the populations they policed. They were given a decade to hit these targets and every single police force missed it. In England and Wales there is a race deficit in policing, as on 7% of officers are from ethnic minorities compared to 14% of the population. A study also found that black police officer numbers barely increased since the middle of the last decade, rising by 86 officers across the 44 forces of England and Wales between 2007 and 2018.

The amount of time it has taken to boost diversity in the police force is shocking, and although policing has faced difficulties with cuts to funding and numbers across the country, it is still an issue that must be addressed further. 

In February 2020, Juliana Christianson sat down with Chief Constable Andy Cooke QPM of Merseyside Police for an interview. They covered a range of topics from the decrease in police numbers, whether graduates make good police officers, and what measures Merseyside Police have been taking to promote diversity both within their ranks and in recruitment. Now 21 years on from the publishing of the Macpherson report, and 24 years on from the death of Stephen Lawrence, it is important to hear from the police what measures they are taking to fulfil the promises they made 21 years ago. Fulfilling these promises, as well as improving relationships between police forces and their communities, is the key to ensuring that the UK has police forces that work well for the people they are there to protect.

The full interview with Chief Constable Andy Cooke of Merseyside Police is available both on SoundCloud and Spotify.

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