West Midlands chief constable apologises for force's history of racism

West Midlands chief constable apologises for force’s history of racism against black people as he defends officers ‘taking a knee’ at BLM protests

  • David Thompson of West Midlands Police has backed his officers ‘taking a knee’
  • The chief constable promised action against anyone caught damaging statues
  • A black person is four times likely to be stopped by his force than a white person
  • He was speaking as concerns on racism have triggered demonstrations globally

The chief constable of England’s second largest police force has apologised to the black community for historic wrongs by officers.

David Thompson of West Midlands Police also backed his officers ‘taking a knee’ in solidarity with anti-racism campaigners at Black Lives Matter protests.

In wide-ranging comments during a strategic police board meeting today, Mr Thompson promised action against anyone caught damaging statues.

It comes as new data shows a black person is almost four times more likely to be stopped and searched by police in the West Midlands than a white person.

David Thompson of West Midlands Police backed his officers ‘taking a knee’ in solidarity with anti-racism campaigners

Mr Thompson said: ‘Our own history of policing is also marked out by discrimination and I wanted to acknowledge that.

‘Treatment of new migrant communities in the 1950s, the ”sus law”, the riots of the 1980s, the death of Stephen Lawrence, many of those issues have played out here also in the West Midlands.

‘Particularly, if you look back on our history, the scandals of the serious crime squad had clear issues about race.

Black people in West Midlands four times more likely to be stopped by police than white person, data reveals

A black person is almost four times more likely to be stopped and searched by police in the West Midlands than a white person, new data has shown. An Asian person is two and a half times as likely to be stopped.

Black people were also disproportionately more likely to be subject to use of force, like being restrained, tasered or taken to the ground.

The West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner David Jamieson said the force-wide findings were ‘unsatisfactory’. ‘It is not acceptable and needs to change,’ he added.

The force data showed analysis of 11,064 stop and searches between January 1 and May 31 this year, and were presented to the PCC’s monthly strategic policing and crime board on Tuesday. Of those searches, just over a quarter (26.9 per cent) resulted in an arrest, a knife seizure, or other ‘positive outcome’. The use of force statistics were based on 5,007 incidents in the same time period.

More than 50 per cent were classed as lower-level use like hand-cuffing ‘non-compliant’ people, to higher level, including use of Pava incapacitant spray (4 per cent), firearms either aimed or fired (3 per cent), Taser deployment (2 per cent), spit guard (2 per cent) and baton-use (1 per cent).

Analysis found use of force against black people was disproportionate (19 per cent of incidents) when looked at against 2011 census data make-up (6 per cent).

The report concluded: ‘The data shows use of force is disproportionate on the black community rather than the wider BAME community.

‘The force cannot satisfactorily account for this and this warrants further assessment.’

The report also found a black person was 6.7 times more likely to be stopped and searched under Section 60 rules – where an area has been defined for searches.

In recent months, such areas have been imposed following spikes in knife, gun and violent crime.

Mr Thompson added the powers were necessarily more widely used in higher-crime areas, which also had a more diverse population.

He said: ‘We are trying to police an unequal society, fairly.’

Mr Thompson added: ‘The consequential issue can be that policing is more prevalent in those areas and I think some people may feel over-policed.’

He said: ‘My sense is we’re minimal on the use of these powers, we’ve got control of them, we do have a level of scrutiny, we do have use of body-cam.’

However, data showed despite the force mandating use of body-worn video in all use of force incidents, stop and search, domestic incidents and mental health unit calls, the review found this was not the case.

The report concluded officers’ cameras were used in just over three quarters (77 per cent) of documented use of force incidents, and about two-thirds (65.7 per cent) of stop and searches.

Mr Thompson said: ‘It will never be 100 per cent because there will be occasions when there are extenuating circumstances.

‘Stop-search I am more concerned about.

‘This enables us to shine a light in some teams now, to say ‘you just don’t seem to turn your body-cam on when you do a search?’

‘I think that is poor practice evidentially, let alone poor practice in terms of future relations and trust, so we definitely need to do more work in that area.’

Only last week, the force pledged to recruit more than 1,000 officers from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) backgrounds in the next three years. The force currently counts 10.9 per cent of its officers from BAME communities.

The data also showed more young people aged 18-34 were stopped (63 per cent) and the vast majority were males (87 per cent).

The figures for those two categories on use of force were similar.

‘I want to start off our discussions by apologising for the things West Midlands Police has got wrong over the years, in policing.

‘History has created, for some, a narrative that we’re not to be trusted and I deeply regret that.’

He added: ‘It’s not just about the past, I recognise we are not a service free from bias, discrimination or, on occasions, even racism. We reflect this imperfect society.’ 

Mr Thompson was speaking as concerns about racism have triggered protests around the world after the death of George Floyd in the US when he was being restrained by police.

He said he and the police service in the West Midlands had to do more and called for more black men and women to join the force.

He said: ‘If you want something different you need to stand forward, I don’t want history to trap us.’

Police officers in London have sparked debate in recent weeks after ‘taking the knee’ at a Black Lives Matter demonstration.

The gesture emerged in the US in 2016 when American footballer Colin Kaepernick started kneeling during the country’s anthem to protest police brutality and racism.

Answering a question on whether such actions were a breach of his police officers’ oaths of service, Mr Thompson said: ‘The current protests are about racism.

‘I’m afraid racism is not an issue on which the force can be impartial. With regards to taking the knee, that has evolved as a symbol.

‘Many people view it as political, many people view it as a widespread statement demonstrating commitment to anti-racism.

‘The position in West Midlands Police we have taken is this: there are some circumstances where it might not be the most sensible thing to do when we’re dealing with large crowds and groups.

‘In that scenario it may be incredibly challenging to do our jobs. There are other circumstances where it may be entirely the right thing that captures the sentiment of crowds.’

He added officers and staff had been given the ‘individual choice’ as to whether they think it is appropriate or not to do.

‘I don’t think, if an officer does this, in the circumstances, they breach their oath at all,’ said Mr Thompson.

A question from an unnamed retired officer asked whether the police would ‘use force’ to protect statutes like those of Sir Robert Peel, outside West Midlands Police’s Birmingham training centre, ‘or cower away like in Bristol and London’.

At a recent rally in Bristol, a statue of Edward Colston was toppled and dragged into the harbour 300 years after his death, over the businessman’s links to slavery.

During another protest in London, the daubing of graffiti claiming wartime leader Sir Winston Churchill ‘was a racist’ led to it being temporarily boarded up for protection.

Mr Thompson said there had been ‘an interesting debate’ in society on which historical figures are celebrated.

He added: ‘What is not acceptable is tearing down and damaging statues, those are issues of criminal damage, and they are issues the force would pursue and deal with.’

Mr Thompson would not comment directly on the policing in Bristol, but said: ‘On occasions police has been trying to strike the balance between managing public order, not aggravating public disorder. That is not unusual.’

In the West Midlands a black person is almost four times more likely to be stopped and searched by police than a white person, new data shows, while an Asian person is two and a half times as likely to be stopped.

Black people were also disproportionately more likely to be subject to use of force, like being restrained, tasered or taken to the ground.

The West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner David Jamieson said the force-wide findings were ‘unsatisfactory’.

‘It is not acceptable and needs to change,’ he added.

Concerns about racism have triggered demonstrations around the world, including the UK, following the death of George Floyd in the United States after his restraint by police officers.

In wider comments, the Chief Constable David Thompson apologised to the black community for historic wrongs by the force.

He added: ‘It’s not just about the past, I recognise we are not a service free from bias, discrimination or, on occasions, even racism.

‘We reflect this imperfect society.’

The force data showed analysis of 11,064 stop and searches between January 1 and May 31 this year, and were presented to the PCC’s monthly strategic policing and crime board on Tuesday.

Of those searches, just over a quarter (26.9 per cent) resulted in an arrest, a knife seizure, or other ‘positive outcome’.

A West Midlands Police officer knelt beside Black Lives Matter protesters during a Birmingham city centre protest on June 4

The use of force statistics were based on 5,007 incidents in the same time period.

More than 50 per cent were classed as lower-level use like hand-cuffing ‘non-compliant’ people, to higher level, including use of Pava incapacitant spray (4 per cent), firearms either aimed or fired (3 per cent), Taser deployment (2 per cent), spit guard (2 per cent) and baton-use (1 per cent).

Analysis found use of force against black people was disproportionate (19 per cent of incidents) when looked at against 2011 census data make-up (6 per cent).

The report concluded: ‘The data shows use of force is disproportionate on the black community rather than the wider BAME community.

‘The force cannot satisfactorily account for this and this warrants further assessment.’

It comes as new data shows a black person is almost four times more likely to be stopped and searched by police in the West Midlands than a white person. West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner David Jamieson said it was ‘unsatisfactory’

The report also found a black person was 6.7 times more likely to be stopped and searched under Section 60 rules – where an area has been defined for searches.

In recent months, such areas have been imposed following spikes in knife, gun and violent crime.

Mr Thompson added the powers were necessarily more widely used in higher-crime areas, which also had a more diverse population.

He said: ‘We are trying to police an unequal society, fairly.’

Mr Thompson added: ‘The consequential issue can be that policing is more prevalent in those areas and I think some people may feel over-policed.’

He said: ‘My sense is we’re minimal on the use of these powers, we’ve got control of them, we do have a level of scrutiny, we do have use of body-cam.’

However, data showed despite the force mandating use of body-worn video in all use of force incidents, stop and search, domestic incidents and mental health unit calls, the review found this was not the case.

The report concluded officers’ cameras were used in just over three quarters (77 per cent) of documented use of force incidents, and about two-thirds (65.7 per cent) of stop and searches.

Mr Thompson said: ‘It will never be 100 per cent because there will be occasions when there are extenuating circumstances.

‘Stop-search I am more concerned about.

‘This enables us to shine a light in some teams now, to say ‘you just don’t seem to turn your body-cam on when you do a search?’

‘I think that is poor practice evidentially, let alone poor practice in terms of future relations and trust, so we definitely need to do more work in that area.’

Only last week, the force pledged to recruit more than 1,000 officers from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) backgrounds in the next three years.

The force currently counts 10.9 per cent of its officers from BAME communities.

The data also showed more young people aged 18-34 were stopped (63 per cent) and the vast majority were males (87 per cent).

The figures for those two categories on use of force were similar. 

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