Record numbers of white police officers are launching legal actions claiming they have been victimised because of the colour of their skin, The Observer can reveal today.
This reflects an alarming backlash against the Metropolitan Police crusade to encourage ethnic minority recruits, with resentful whites now convinced they are the ones being overlooked for promotion.
Yesterday Ray Powell, the president of the National Black Police Association, warned that moves to end the culture of casual prejudice were backfiring.
Attacking ‘a ridiculous’ pressure to hit strict targets for recruiting black officers, Powell told The Observer there was a risk of undeserving candidates being hired to boost the force’s record on race.
Around half of the long-running race cases being taken to employment tribunals by Met officers now involve white complainants, according to evidence submitted to the Morris inquiry, which is examining the force’s treatment of its staff.
The inquiry has uncovered a bitter undercurrent of resistance to change in anonymous interviews with officers, one of whom complained that ‘if you are from a [visible ethnic minority] whatever you want, you can have.’
The Met has been under intense pressure to hire more black officers since the Macpherson inquiry into the murder of black teenager Stephen Lawrence, which concluded the force was ‘institutionally racist’.
It has a target for 25 per cent of the force to come from the ethnic minorities by 2009, so that it reflects London’s population as a whole.
However, Powell said with current progress that would require up to 80 per cent of new recruits to be black and Asian, ‘which is ridiculous’.
He would rather see targets reduced and black recruits rising through the ranks on merit, than allowing substandard applicants to be taken on: ‘There is a danger of black officers being set up to fail: human nature being as it is, there is a risk that the standards may be lowered.
‘I would rather see work on a sustainable environment first of all for black officers within the police, as opposed to carte blanche recruiting people into an environment where they won’t be able to be sustained.’
The process of change had been mishandled, with ordinary officers confused and suspicious about the Met’s tactics of ‘so-called positive action’ policies stopping short of deliberately favouring black candidates, but seeking to encourage recruits by combating racism in the ranks, the black police leader said.
‘If you were to ask anybody in the police service what positive action is, they don’t have a clue: therefore they interpret it as action against them.
‘They feel “we have got these black officers getting everything, and apparently getting a leg up” when in fact they are not.’
The warning is borne out by evidence to the Morris inquiry, which is now considering its verdict after six months of hearing testimony from more than 50 witnesses.
Led by Bill Morris, the former Transport and General Workers’ Union leader, it has received a string of complaints of black officers being victimised for trivial offences, such as appearing on parade in a short-sleeved shirt instead of a long-sleeved one.
Women officers told of a macho ‘lads and dads’ culture that forced them to watch porn during breaks, refused them permission to work part-time or have shifts to fit around childcare and even barred them from expressing breast milk at work.
Anonymous interviews conducted on visits to London police stations exposed the hidden resentment among white officers. One complained: ‘The perception is that black officers are only getting a promotion because they are black’. Others urged the Met to ‘slow [its reforms] down a bit and look at white officers. They are forgotten.’
The problem is not confined to the Met, according to the Nottinghamshire branch of the Black Police Association, which told the inquiry that the promotion of one local Asian sergeant prompted six white rivals to sue for racial discrimination.
Jan Berry, chair of the Police Federation, reported complaints from white officers in Greater Manchester about the handling of disciplinary proceedings following a BBC undercover documentary, which filmed a recruit at a training centre wearing a Ku Klux Klan-style outfit.
Esme Crowther, head of the Met’s employment tribunal unit, told Morris that seven out of 15 race cases of more than two years’ duration now involve white officers claiming to have been victimised. Most objected to being disciplined when they claimed visible ethnic minority officers had not been.
The inquiry was set up by the Metropolitan Police Authority following the cases of Sergeant Gurpal Virdi—sacked for allegedly sending himself hate mail, but reinstated after a tribunal hearing—and Superintendent Ali Dizaei, paid £80,000 compensation by the Met after accusations against him were dropped after four years and an investigating costing £7m.
Both cases risked seriously damaging nationwide efforts to recruit black officers, with some chief constables now calling for black candidates to be ‘fast tracked’ through the system in an effort to hit their targets—the sort of positive discrimination Powell feels is counterproductive.
Morris is understood to be considering a range of potential measures, including an independent ombudsman for internal police discipline, and case managers to speed up the handling of complaints. Officers can be now suspended for years on end as investigations grind on.