It's 13 years since the Stephen Lawrence inquiry exposed the institutional racism at the heart of the police. One of the original inquiry panel members wonders what has really changed since then
In response to the sentencing on Wednesday of Gary Dobson and David Norris for the murder of her son, Doreen Lawrence preferred to focus on the future. She spoke passionately of her Stephen Lawrence Charitable Trust and the work she does in its fine modern building in south-east London. The trust's aim is to support the next generation of talented young people, and in particular those studying architecture ? her elder son Stephen had hoped to become an architect.
When the trust was set up, in 2000, Mrs Lawrence and her fellow trustees swiftly realised they also needed to focus on schoolchildren who were struggling even to get to university. So many black boys are held back at school, while the girls are offered little, if any, encouragement to reach higher. (For the sake of brevity I use the word "black" to include Asian, Muslim or any other visible minority.)
In this country we waste an awful lot of talent. Bright children from second-, third- or even fourth-generation (black) families from the former colonies are too often denied the equal opportunities that are offered to their white schoolmates. When, on top of this, some of them are also submitted to arbitrary stop and searches by aggressive police officers, they understandably grow angry with society at large.
But what of the police as employers of minorities? They are, after all, major employers, and probably the largest apprenticeship scheme in the UK. In 2009, I was undertaking an independent review of the Stephen Lawrence inquiry 10 years on. I asked the Met's head of human resources how many GCSEs one needed to sign up as a probationary police officer. He had to send his staff officer to find out. Both were startled at the answer. None. The applicant had to pass (a very simple) literacy and numeracy test, and they were in. Unlike the army, police services don't have an Army Educational Corps (as they did when I did national service). That is a serious weakness that must be corrected if we want sharp-thinking officers serving us.
With such a low barrier to getting a relatively well-paid job, you would think black youngsters would be joining in droves as a way to escape the shortcomings of a failing education system. It was sad to see this week, as part of TV coverage of the trial, a 10-year-old archive clip of a group of black teenagers. Asked whether they would ever join the police, they laughed uproariously. It would be interesting to find some of those people now to see if they still felt the same.
Police services, however, do deserve genuine praise for recent improvements in dealing with discrimination in employment. Women now occupy senior posts in numbers that would have been unthinkable 13 years ago.
Not that long ago it was laughable to see detective shows on television with a woman in charge of a murder investigation. In 2012, we now have two real-life women chief constables. It is even more praiseworthy to see that there are many others moving up as inspectors, superintendents, or even breaking through the glass ceiling to the level of commander.
But where are the black officers? Well, they are still stuck at superintendent, with maybe one Asian who has, in recent years, gone through the bottleneck to commander. And almost the last of those superintendents is due to retire before the summer of 2012. I know of only one black chief inspector moving up.
Thirteen years ago, at the end of the Stephen Lawrence inquiry, there were four black officers at the level of chief constable or their assistants ("chief officers"). I am told there were nine three years ago but that there is none at all now. Nor are there any at or just below chief officer level. In the wake of such a damning inquiry, I would have expected to see a broad wave of black officers at or above the level of commander, as is the wave of women there now.
In relation to police forces as employers, the Lawrence inquiry recommended "a ministerial priority" that should include "performance indicators in relation to levels of recruitment, retention and progression of minority ethnic recruits ? with the overall aim of elimination of racism, prejudice and disadvantage in its demonstration of fairness in all aspects of policing". This was to be one way of "increasing trust and confidence in policing amongst minority ethnic communities". Performance indicators and targets were duly set.
Sadly, as the years went by, it was clear that these were not going to be met, and one after another they were abandoned, ignored or undermined by massaging the statistics.
Thirteen years on, one major statistical trick has been to include those in the new post of community police support officer (CPSO) as new "recruits". This job has attracted officers from black and other minority communities who are generally not prepared to commit themselves to becoming full constables.
Statistics were presented showing a 7% increase of "recruits from black backgrounds". In 2009, the Met commissioner trumpeted this as "reaching the targets we set ourselves 10 years ago". That target was 7%. Unfortunately, the comparison is not like-for-like. CPSOs had not been created in 1999. The comparison should not have been with recruitment of CPSOs rolled up with full constables. The only valid comparison was of full constables taken on in 2009 with full constables recruited in 1999. When data are compared like-for-like, then the true picture emerges: the increase of black constables has grown by an unacceptably poor 2% to 4%.
Data for retention and progression were not even mentioned. When searched out by the Runnymede Trust they were found to be way behind the targets set in 1999 for retention and progression, as well as for recruitment.
Selective use of one falsely positive statistic as a sign of success, while ignoring a series of bad statistics, is described by statisticians in polite terms as "massaging the figures".
Underlying the detail of what has and what has not been done by the police has been the insidious slipping off the agenda of any discussion about racism. In 2012, for our politicians, media and even the public, discussion of "inequalities" has been reduced to either the gap between women and men, or the gap between the poor and the very rich. Tell a black, Muslim, Asian (or other British citizen from a minority group) racism is so reduced that it no longer needs to be dealt with and most will react with outrage.
Enough of this anger-creating suppression of the hopes and opportunities of people from black backgrounds. My message to white (mainly) men (like me), who have the power to discriminate is this: just stop doing it.
Dr Richard Stone was a panel member of the Stephen Lawrence inquiry as an adviser to the judge, Sir William Macpherson, and the author in 2009 of Stephen Lawrence Review: an independent commentary to mark the 10th anni
versary of the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry.