Michael Howie, Scotsman (Edinburgh), May 14
Police are to introduce complex psychological tests to stop racist applicants joining the force, The Scotsman can reveal.
The move comes amid fears that racism within the police has been “driven underground” due to heightened awareness of the issue.
Scotland’s police chiefs commissioned the new psycho-metric tests in response to the BBC’s Secret Policeman documentary, which exposed racism among several trainee police recruits in October 2003.
The programme, which showed a recruit at a Greater Manchester Police training college wearing a Ku Klux Klan-type hood, led to separate reviews of the police and race relations in Scotland and England.
The Commission for Racial Equality Scotland is due to report its findings in the summer and sources have told The Scotsman that several “areas of concern” will be raised.
The new tests will allow interviewers to detect under-lying racist attitudes more effectively than the current, more direct question-and-answer approach, which police admit racists can too easily dodge.
The project, which is costing £55,000, is being developed by the clinical psychology department at Strathclyde University and will be introduced to all eight Scottish police forces in the autumn.
Under the new tests, candidates will be presented with a selection of policing scenarios to which they will be asked to respond. By comparing answers, police will hopefully be able to expose racist views which candidates would otherwise try to hide.
Up to 100 different scenarios will be drawn up, making it nearly impossible for all the “correct answers” to be passed on to would-be recruits.
Andrew Cameron, the Chief Constable of Central Scotland, who is chairman of the personnel and training committee at ACPOS (Association of Chief Police Officers Scotland), said he hoped the new system would assure ethnic minority communities that police forces were taking racism within the ranks seriously.
“We already have a focus on finding out what people are about in terms of attitudes at the recruitment stage, but we are exploring ways of being even more robust when it comes to screening out people who do have wrong attitudes about race,” said Mr Cameron.
“We want to reassure people from the ethnic minority population that we are doing everything we possibly can to not recruit people with racist attitudes.”
Mr Cameron added: “It is difficult to identify people with racist views — when we recruit people into the police service in Scotland we are recruiting what is reflected in our society. But we are already trying our best to undermine it [racism] and, with the assistance of academics, hopefully we can send out a very positive message about how seriously we take this issue.”
Peter Thickett, the training committee secretary, said that the new system would give recruiters “better quality assurance”.
“The design brief is to produce something that is not susceptible to cheating, so it is not just a question of giving correct answers which we know will just be posted on the internet before too long,” said Mr Thickett.
“It won’t give us a pass or fail but it will throw up questions which need to be asked in the final interview.”
He said a “library” of crime and general policing scenarios would be drawn up by officers in conjunction with Strathclyde University. Some of the scenarios would involve black and Asian people, and would-be recruits would be asked how they would respond to different situations.
Mr Thickett said: “The smartness of it is there will be scenarios, some of which will throw up race or gender issues, which will test critical thinking. We can compare what a candidate’s attitude is in a scenario involving a black person to ones where all the people are white.
“For example, they could be looking at a situation where a black man has committed a robbery and is carrying a gun. What we want to know is whether they see the black man before they see the gun.”
He said the tests would be used by human-resource staff and officers at various stages in the recruitment process, including interviews and background checks.
Police also intend to use the tests to tackle sexism and find out candidates’ attitudes to risk-taking. Mr Thickett added: “I don’t think we have a particular problem with racism. We have had relatively few people knocked out of the service on those grounds. It’s about quality assurance, it’s about saying we would like to have an additional check.”
It is understood a number of investigations in several forces across the UK are ongoing into alleged racist behaviour. Last year an officer was fined £5,000 for using racist language. Almost two out of five Metropolitan police officers last year failed a secret Scotland Yard “mystery shopper” test of their attitude to complaints about racism.
Officers posing as members of the public went to police stations across London to make complaints about alleged racist behaviour by police. In nearly 40 per cent of cases, the complainants were fobbed off and ignored.
Semper Scotland, a support group for non-white police officers, welcomed the tests and said tough action was needed.
Sandra Deslandes-Clark, a spokeswoman, said minority ethnic officers were still reporting racist abuse across Scotland’s forces, four years after Strathclyde Police was branded “institutionally racist” over its handling of the murder of Surjit Singh Chhokar, a waiter.
“We are delighted that the police are doing something positive and responding to a problem that is clearly out there,” she said.
“I’m pleased they have acknowledged this is an issue and I see this as a first step. We look forward to working with them to eradicate racism within the police altogether.”
Ms Deslandes-Clark said officers frequently told Semper about racial abuse from colleagues, but that many others were afraid to speak out.
“We have people who say they have been called ‘Paki’ and other names, and other officers who heard it have not backed them up. People are scared to say anything because they think it may damage their careers.
“Racism’s still there, it’s just gone underground. People have become more cautious. It’s up to ACPOS and ourselves to drive it out.
“A lot of people feel they have been held back because of their accents, because for a lot of them English is not their first language. Recruitment and progression in the police is based on being white and male.”
Forces across England and Wales have already introduced psychological “integrity tests” to weed out racist applicants following The Secret Policeman, which featured undercover reporter Mark Daly, a former Scotsman journalist.
Applicants undergo a series of role-playing and written tests followed by a full interview.