Rising to the challenge
Bedfordshire’s PCC Festus Akinbusoye hopes the new Race Action Plan to address the disparities faced by black people in policing will bring ‘tangible change’.
It is clear that high levels of confidence in policing translates into better outcomes for victims of crime, and for safety in our communities.
In my role as police and crime commissioner (PCC) for Bedfordshire, and in my capacity as the national PCC lead for Prevention, I often see references to watershed moments in policing and our criminal justice system.
The Macpherson Report, that was prompted by the racially motivated murder of Stephen Lawrence in April 1993, was one such watershed moment. Nearly 30 years later, it is sadly still the case both here in Bedfordshire and across the country, that people from our black communities face poorer experiences with policing and the wider criminal justice system overall.
I am the first, and currently, the only black PCC in the country. I believe I am also the only PCC in the country to have been stopped and searched six times for reasons ranging from ‘matching a description’ to being asked by an officer, “what are you doing around here?”. I bring my own lived experiences into this role, of growing up as a young black man in London, and now as a parent to three black teenagers in Bedfordshire.
The poor experience and disproportionality that affects black people is found across the spectrum of interactions with the police, including stop and search, use of force, victim care and court sentencing. Within policing, black people’s experiences of recruitment, retention, promotion and conduct issues are more negative than for their white colleagues.
The data is indisputable, and despite the Macpherson Report of nearly three decades ago, not nearly enough has been done by those in police leadership nationally or locally to improve these very longstanding issues.
I am the first, and currently, the only black PCC in the country. I believe I am also the only PCC in the country to have been stopped and searched six times
Despite the length of time it has taken to get to this position, I am reassured by the work that has gone into the Race Action Plan and the commitment from chief constables and the College of Policing to its delivery. I am assured that tangible change is coming. I am pleased that having acknowledged and accepted that these longstanding issues still exist, police leadership is facing up to the need to ensure that we need to do more to build trust and confidence within our black communities, and to reduce the disproportionality that continues to exist.
Our chief constable here in Bedfordshire, Garry Forsyth, has been at the forefront of driving this national change, and we all benefit from his leadership and commitment to the Race Action Plan. Bedfordshire Police has the lowest disproportionality rate for stop and search in England and Wales; an achievement recently recognised by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate, and is just part of the progress we have made here in Bedfordshire.
The chief constable will continue to be held very firmly to account by me for how Bedfordshire Police delivers policing to all our communities. I want to ensure there is the right level of training, scrutiny and transparency around the parts of policing where disproportionality continues to be a problem. I want to know that all of our police officers are equipped and confident to go into our communities to help cut crime, prevent harm and take criminals off our streets without fear or favour.
There is much more to be done, and the Race Action Plan sets out how the leadership of policing intends to rise to the challenge. I will keep working with the chief constable, colleagues in Bedfordshire Police and our communities to continue to drive up confidence levels throughout our county.
This is good for policing, it is good for all our communities, and it is good for community safety.
Festus Akinbusoye was elected as PCC for Bedfordshire in May 2021. He has lived in Bedfordshire for ten years. Before being elected, he completed 400 hours of service as a Special Constable with Bedfordshire Police, including frontline response duties as an officer. https://www.bedfordshire.pcc.police.uk
A statement by Bedfordshire Police on the Race Action Plan can be found at: https://www.facebook.com/bedspolice/posts/390807656426788