Why Greater Manchester Police is (still) institutionally racist despite their latest report

July 2021

On July 27, 2021, Greater Manchester Police (GMP) published its long awaited Achieving Race Equality Report. Drawing on previously unpublished data from April 2020 to March 2021, the report acknowledges significant racial disproportionalities in policing from stop-and-search to arrests and use of force. The report finds that these disproportionalities are particularly acute for people racialised as Black, who – in comparison to white people – are noted to be:

  • 5.3 times more likely to have been stopped and searched
  • 4 times more likely to have force used against them
  • 5.7 times more likely to have a Taser used against them
  • 2.8 times more likely to have been arrested 

However, much like the recent report from the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities, the authors refuse to attribute racial disproportionality to institutional racism or discrimination in policing practices. In fact, the word ‘racism’ is used only once in the report in a broad, generic reference to the Black Lives Matter Movement, detached from discussions of policing.

Key claims of the Achieving Race Equality Report

Instead, the report suggests a series of alternative rationales for entrenched racial disproportionalities in policing. The core rationale is that racial disproportionalities are reflective of the greater ‘concentration of crime and policing in the City of Manchester, where a majority of Black residents of GMP live’ (p.8). In short, the report argues that crime rates are higher in inner-city districts with larger Black populations resulting in a greater police presence and interactions. In explaining the causes of higher crime rates in inner-city districts, the report draws  upon ‘colourblind’ logics to infer a correlation between crime and broader ‘societal inequalities’ also disproportionately experienced by racially minoritised people, particularly in the areas of child poverty, housing, education and employment (p.13). As Chief Constable Steve Watson surmised at the report’s launch

‘We know that crime thrives in deprived communities and we know that because of many of those other drivers many of the people that live in deprived communities are also overrepresented in the sense of themselves coming from minority communities and if crime is thriving in these communities that is where policing happens.’

But what of racial disproportionalities in policing within the multi-racial working class and across diverse neighborhoods? Here, the report develops a secondary line of argumentation drawn from the research of Gavin Hale, Senior Associate Fellow of the Police Foundation, in asserting that age (like geography) matters more than race(ism). According to the authors, the majority of police interactions take place with younger people and ‘Black, Asian and mixed populations are more youthful than the White population.’ They argue that this is a factor that contributes to disproportionalities but has apparently not been considered in calculations which ‘tend to use all-age population counts’ (p.7). 

There are a few nods in the executive summary to other potential contributors to racial disproportionalities. For example, the authors intimate that the increased roll out of Taser ‘may have played a role in increasing disproportionality’ in use of force specifically, though no explanation is offered for how or why this might be the case. The report also establishes that officers are ‘more likely to refer to the physique of Black people’ when explaining the impact factors that contributed to use of force, a fact that suggests – in the authors’ words – that there ‘may be biases in relation to officers’ decision making’ (emphasis ours). Beyond use of force, the executive summary also notes the possibility that an ‘organisational focus on robbery and knife crime’ in particular districts combined with ‘the use of relatively broad stop and search powers to police these types of offences’ may also be contributing factors (p.8). However, none of these lines of inquiry are explored in much, if any, detail in the body of the report itself. Indeed, they feel more like afterthoughts (or concessions?) disconnected from the central findings and rationale of the report and it’s subsequent recommendations. 

Viewing racial disproportionalities in policing chiefly as a by-product of deeper socio-economic problems and poor data handling means that, in the eye’s of the authors, there is little to fix at GMP beyond the false perceptions of affected communities. Indeed, the introduction clearly states that the chief aim of the report is to ‘reinforce the legitimacy of [GMP’s] practices’ not transform them. (p.4) Speaking with The Guardian following the report’s publication, Chief Constable Steve Watson reinforced this position, stating: 

‘I do not accept that GMP is institutionally racist, but I do accept that a lot of people think we are. And their view is really important because they are the folks we serve, and so we have to address those concerns head on.’ 

As a result, it should come as no surprise that the report’s recommendations focus less on substantive operational changes than reframing public perceptions of GMP as accountable, representative, and transparent. We see this in recommendations for: the creation of a new Diversity and Equality Board headed by the Chief Constable, the establishment of Community Scrutiny Panels, the recruitment of more Black and Asian officers, and the commitment to publish quarterly data on the use of force and stop-and-search. These are recommendations designed to address perceptions of racial disproportionality not ‘achieve racial equality’ as the report claims.

Serious flaws in the Achieving Race Equality Report 

Accordingly, the Northern Police Monitoring Project strongly condemns the Achieving Race Equality Report and joins other community members and organisations – including Elizabeth Cameron, chair of the Greater Manchester Race Equality panel – in asserting the unequivocal and persistent presence of institutional racism within GMP. 

Our monitoring work brings us into regular contact with community members who have borne the brunt of very real, racially discriminatory policing practices including the over-policing of inner-city districts outlined in the report. The use of crime statistics – in this case, data on what is described as ‘Police Recorded Crime’ – to justify racial disproportionalities stemming in part from spatially disparate policing strategies raises a number of pressing concerns. First, government agencies – including the UK Parliament’s Home Affairs Select Committee – have questioned the accuracy of Police Recorded Crime data, identifying ‘strong evidence’ of under-recording by local forces. Indeed, it was systemic failures in crime recording that resulted in GMP being placed in ‘special measures’ at the end of last year. Between 1 July 2019 and 30 June 2020, GMP failed to record an estimated 80,100 crimes. In total, one in every five crimes reported to GMP by members of the public went unrecorded including serious violent offences such as harassment, sexual assault and domestic abuse. Despite these concerns, GMP’s report draws heavily on the same, highly questionable Police Recorded Crime data to support claims about the causal relationship between crime, policing and racial disproportionality. This fact alone seriously undermines any facade of legitimacy the report carries. 

In addition to these problems of accuracy, Police Recorded Crime data is not objective and cannot be separated out from policing practices on the ground. When GMP engages in practices of over-policing or adopts operational approaches that target particular groups or communities the outcome is subsequently reproduced in the Police Recorded Crime data. Simply put, if police officers focus all of their attention on Place A, and not Place B, it should be unsurprising when they find more crime – or, rather, criminalise more people – in Place A. This dynamic is also present  in the policing of certain types of crime including what the executive summary describes as the ‘use of relatively broad stop and search powers’ when policing drug-related crime. As lawyer and human rights activist Michelle Alexander famously observed in The New Jim Crow, while the majority of illegal drug users and dealers in the United States are white, three-fourths of all people imprisoned for drug offenses are Black and Latinx. Such disproportionate outcomes, as Alexander argues, can only be explained by the extraordinary discretion afforded to officers in determining who to stop, search and arrest combined with strategic operational decisions that result in the over-policing of specific communities. For this reason, crime statistics cannot be taken as a reflection of some kind of objective reality of ‘crime’ separate from the historical and contemporaneous practice of over-policing. And, this data certainly should not be used as a justification for the continuation of such practices as this report does.

This failure to acknowledge the integral role over-policing plays in (re)-producing racially disparate crime statistics is particularly apparent in the report’s approach to interpreting the relationship between young people and the police. The authors’ flat assertion ‘that police officers tend to interact with younger people, and that Black, Asian and mixed populations are more youthful than the White population’ belies the institutional and officer-led choices that inform that dynamic. Setting aside that disparities persist even when age is controlled for, the policing of young people is not natural or value free, but is shaped by assumptions and stereotypes about youth, and particularly Black youth. It was fear of these very types of assumptions that fueled anxiety about the recently defeated proposal that twenty additional police officers be placed in Greater Manchester schools.  As our jointly authored report showed, a majority of local teachers, students and parents surveyed opposed the proposal in part because they believed officers would be placed in schools located in working-class areas with significant racialised populations. That institutional choice many feared would inevitably lead to greater criminalisation. The Achieving Race Equality report’s uncritical engagement with crime data related to place, age and race only reinforces such anxieties.

Ultimately, the Achieving Race Equality Report confirms what we already knew: racial disproportionalities are endemic to policing in Greater Manchester. The central point of contention is whether GMP bears any responsibility. GMP have reflected for over a year on the question and concluded that they do not. We beg to differ.