Police forces still failing to record and publish data on ethnicity

Police forces are still failing to record the ethnicity of victims of crimes in nearly two thirds of cases, and they should publish more data on ethnicity to help build public confidence, a new report has found.

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His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS) reviewed crime data recorded during 2021-22, where a victim was identified, and found that in 61% of cases the victim’s ethnicity was not recorded, in 26% sex wasn’t recorded, and in 27% the age wasn’t stated.

The inspectorate said that while the police have done much work in recent years to identify race disparity in stop and search, in too many areas forces are unable to accurately assess the full impact of crime on, or the quality of their service to, people from different demographic groups. This is despite numerous previous warnings from the inspectorate about the problem.

Where data was recorded, there were clear differences between the experiences of people from different ethnic backgrounds. For example, people from ethnic minority backgrounds were less likely than White people to receive a caution in 16 out of the 17 forces that gave HMICFRS data. Cautions provide an opportunity for offences to be dealt with while avoiding a person being given a criminal record. It is therefore important that forces monitor whether decisions about cautions, and other criminal justice decisions, are being made fairly and consistently.

The inspectorate said that while evidence of disparity isn’t in itself evidence of discrimination, it should warrant further investigation.

HMICFRS also said that strategies designed to tackle race and policing issues needed to be finalised or updated, and then implemented by police forces. The inspectorate criticised insufficient leadership from central government departments and senior police officers on race disparity in the police’s criminal justice decision-making.

The inspectorate looked at race and policing in two reports, and made a series of recommendations including:

  • the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC), the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice should create an action plan to ensure information on police criminal justice race disparity is better gathered, analysed, scrutinised and published;
  • chief constables should make sure that forces carry out comprehensive analysis of race disparity in police criminal justice decision-making. Where this analysis indicates that people from ethnic minority backgrounds are disproportionately affected, police forces should explain, or revise, their ways of working;
  • the NPCC and the College of Policing should finalise and publish the Police Race Action Plan and forces should implement this plan without delay; and
  • the NPCC and the College of Policing should publish the revised 2018–2025 diversity, equality and inclusion strategy.

His Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary Wendy Williams said:

“Some of the decisions that the police make daily about criminal justice matters can have life-changing consequences for the people concerned.

“So it is extremely worrying that the police and wider criminal justice system are failing to gather and publish information about whether these police decisions are being made fairly and consistently.

“Where we do have data, there are clear differences between the experiences of people from different ethnic backgrounds. We know, for example, that children from ethnic minority backgrounds are disproportionately represented in youth custody – and this disparity has been getting larger over the past decade. It is essential that the police understand why these disparities exist.

“To gain the trust and confidence of all communities, police forces need to gather this information, make it easily available, and encourage the public to help scrutinise it.”

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  • For further information, the HMICFRS Press Office can be contacted at 0300 071 6781 or HMICPressOffice@hmicfrs.gov.uk.
  • Since 2017, HMICFRS has published 30 different reports in which it describes the problem of lack of accurate data about race and explains why it is important that the police take action to address it. It has made ten separate recommendations and identified areas for improvement.