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Police Scotland chief says force is institutionally racist

The Trade Book 168 May 25, 2023
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Scotland's outgoing Chief Constable Sir Iain Livingstone says Police Scotland is institutionally racist.

The chief constable of Police Scotland has admitted that the force is institutionally racist and discriminatory.

Sir Iain Livingstone said prejudice and bad behaviour within the force was "rightly of great concern".

He also said that acknowledging the issues exist was vital for real change to happen.

It also heard about cases where staff had been "punished" for raising concerns.

Sir Iain's statement is believed to be the first of its kind by a police chief and comes amid ongoing controversy about policing culture in the UK.

But he stressed that his admission of institutional discrimination did not mean that individual officers and staff were racist or sexist and expressed pride and confidence in their work.

Chair of the Scottish Police Authority Martyn Evans called it a "watershed moment" for policing in Scotland and in the UK.

Speaking at a meeting of the Scottish Police Authority on Thursday morning, Sir Iain said: "It is right for me, as Chief Constable, to clearly state that institutional racism, sexism, misogyny and discrimination exist.

"Police Scotland is institutionally discriminatory and racist. Publicly acknowledging these issues exist institutionally is essential to our absolute commitment to championing equality and becoming an anti-racist service,

"It is also critical to our determination to lead wider change in society."

Image source, Getty Images
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Police Scotland is the UK's second largest force behind the Met

Sir Iain, who is to retire on 10 August, admitted that people from different backgrounds or with different requirements "don't always get the service that is their right".

He said was also true for the force's own officers and staff.

Last year Police Scotland launched a four-year strategy called "Policing Together" to tackle discrimination in the force and in the community.

An assistant chief constable has since been appointed to oversee its delivery and a mandatory leadership programme to be rolled out to about 5,000 officers and staff to improve the existing workplace culture.

Police Scotland has faced a number of concerns about that culture in recent years.

Some women who are former officers have spoken about a "boys club" culture at all levels of Police Scotland.

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Rhona Malone was a police firearms officer and was victimised after raising concerns about sexism

One of them, former firearms officer Rhona Malone, won almost £1m in compensation from the force after an employment tribunal found she had been victimised when she had raised concerns about sexism.

The force is also under pressure due to an ongoing public inquiry into the death of Sheku Bayoh, who died after he was restrained by police officers in Kirkcaldy.

The inquiry is investigating the circumstances of the 31-year-old's death and whether race was a factor.

An independent review group established by Police Scotland to examine its record on equality, diversity, inclusion and human rights noted the "widespread view" that although discriminatory attitudes are still present in the force, there had been a marked shift over the past decade.

The review also found that efforts to improve Police Scotland's culture are being held back by financial issues and pressure on frontline resources.

Admitting Police Scotland has serious institutional failures is a bold move when you've been in charge of the force for more than half its existence.

This politically savvy chief constable will say it's the right thing to do and the right time to do it, as he prepares to step down.

Sir Iain Livingstone's words will be closely examined at the public inquiry which is investigating whether race was a factor when Sheku Bayoh died in police custody eight years ago. Sir Iain took care to mention Mr Bayoh's family today.

His statement will be applauded by many in civic Scotland at a time when the force's handling of its investigation into the SNP has attracted criticism from some political quarters.

As for the reaction from inside the force, Sir Iain's popularity with the rank and file will help them accept this tough message - but Police Scotland's frontline is already under great pressure.

The force has its lowest number of officers since 2008 because of real terms budget cuts and an independent review has described frontline resources as the greatest challenge to changing its culture.

The review group said officers have "little or no space" to devote to reflection or training.

Sir Iain has acknowledged what his counterpart in the Met, Sir Mark Rowley, has refused to do.

He's said Police Scotland is guilty not just of institutional racism but also institutional discrimination.

He's admitted a lot of people have been let down.

It will be years before we find out whether this is a catalyst for real change or just fine words from a chief constable who's about to walk out the door.

Human rights lawyer Aamer Anwar, who had his teeth smashed out in a racist attack by police in Glasgow in 1991, said those in policing had refused to accept institutional racism for too long.

Mr Anwar, who represents the family of Sheku Bayoh, said Sir Iain's statement was a "testament to families and all those struggles fought by the victims of racial violence and injustice".

He said: "The chief constable has set a challenge not just for the police service of Scotland, but to all police forces throughout the United Kingdom, especially the Metropolitan Police who refuse to accept indisputable evidence of institutional racism.

"In the end the real test on institutional racism, will not be the sympathy expressed for families like those of Sheku Bayoh but whether this country acts to ensure that real change takes place in our all-powerful police service."