Racism and inequality ‘permeate all public institutions’ including police, says Merseyside PCC

Merseyside Police chief constable Serena Kennedy has responded by insisting the region’s force is ‘not institutionally racist’.

Merseyside’s police and crime commissioner (PCC) has said that racism and inequality ‘permeate all our public institutions’.

Emily Spurrell released a statement following a debate with two other PCCs on Policing TV about whether police forces were institutionally racist.

When questioned during the interview about whether she accepted Merseyside Police was institutionally racist, she answered: “I do, I do.”

She said she had discussed the subject with Chief Constable Serena Kennedy and insited it was not about individual officers but the force as an institution, which had “been designed by a certain group of people and it does not take into account how black and ethnic minority people might experience things and how they might get treated”.

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Ms Spurrell has faced criticism for her comments and the Chief Constable Serena Kennedy stated that she ‘categorically’ does not believe that Merseyside Police is institutionally racist.

Ms Spurrell said in a statement: “If we are to truly tackle racism in our institutions, we must first acknowledge the scale of the issue.

“However we define it, racism and inequality permeate all our public institutions.

“We can see that from the outcomes for black and ethnic minority people in all walks of life, whether that’s disproportionality in stop searches, over-representation in our criminal justice system and prisons, or disparity in educational outcomes, employment opportunities and healthcare.

“Acknowledging structural racism absolutely doesn’t mean our individual police officers and staff are racist.

“It means recognising that our systems and processes were designed by a certain group of people in a different time when the make-up of society was different.

“It means recognising some of those structures are out-dated and that they don’t work for all our communities now.”

Mayor Joanne Anderson, Merseyside Police Chief Constable Serena Kennedy and Merseyside Police and Crime Commissioner Emily Spurrell. Photo: OLI SCARFF/AFP via Getty Images

She acknowledged that it was an “uncomfortable, difficult conversation” but said that by admitting there are still problems communities would have more faith in commitment to change things for the better.

She added: “This is not to suggest we are still in the same place as when the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry report was released in 1999. A huge amount of progress has been made since that time.

“But we must continue to be actively anti-racist if we are to win trust back, particularly among black communities. That means being open and honest, owning the problem, and taking proactive steps to redress the balance.

“Merseyside Police, under the leadership of the chief constable, has already taken significant steps to tackle disproportionality. 

“That includes ensuring officers and staff are more representative of the communities they serve, creating a dedicated Diversity Equality Inclusion team, reducing the disproportionality of stop searches and allowing public scrutiny of stop and search from body worn camera footage.

“This is all positive work. We are taking good strides in the right direction, and I welcome the chief constable’s commitment to go even further. I have scrutinised her on disproportionality at my public scrutiny meeting and she has been unequivocal in her commitment to continuing to embed the right culture across Merseyside Police.

“But we still live in an unequal society. Policing is embedded in that society. That means - like all walks of life and all institutions – we continue to battle issues of discrimination, inequality and disparity.”

Merseyside Police response

Chief constable Kennedy said in a statement: “We know that policing, like society, is not free of racial discrimination, bias and disproportionality. It still exists in some policies and processes, and we are taking action to change this. We collectively want to improve, we want to progress, we want to be better. We are not institutionally racist. 

"There has been a lot of work done to understand how we need to change, and progress has been made but we know we need to do more, and we are committed to this.”

She said the force planned to build on previous work in Merseyside to deliver a National Race Action Plan, developed by the College of Policing and the National Police Chiefs Council, which is due to be published shortly.