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65% of minority ethnic Britons say police are biased against them

Poll suggests problems of trust and legitimacy for criminal justice system

The poll found overwhelming support for Black Lives Matter protests.

The poll found overwhelming support for Black Lives Matter protests. Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Two-thirds of minority ethnic Britons believe the police and criminal justice system are biased against them, a new poll finds.

Coming after racial injustice protests swept across Britain in recent months, the poll for the charity Hope Not Hate shows the level of concern about bias in policing among minority groups.

Eight out of 10 black Britons and eight out of 10 Bangladeshi Britons fear “police are biased against people from my background and ethnic group”, with 65% of all ethnic minorities agreeing.

The poll also finds four out of 10 minority ethnic people witnessing or experiencing racial violence or abuse in the past 12 months, in results that challenge the notion Britain is at ease with itself over race.

The figures in the poll of minority ethnic people suggest potentially significant problems of legitimacy for the main institutions of the criminal justice system, more than 20 years after radical reforms were promised in the wake of the Stephen Lawrence inquiry.

Pollsters Focaldata, who carried out work for the Conservative party during the 2019 general election, conducted the survey.

Accurate polling of ethnic minorities in Britain is hard and expensive. But some broad headline findings on policing in the new survey chime with a poll last month for ITV. That previous poll asked whether policing had a culture of racism and 59% of minority ethnic respondents said yes, rising to 77% among black people specifically.

The new poll may be a warning to the government and leaders of the criminal justice system of big problems in trust among ethnic minorities.

Asked whether they would be proud if a family member joined the police, 52% said they would, 18% said they would not and 30% were neutral. Among black people 47% said they would be proud.

Police chiefs hope the recruitment of another 20,000 officers will be a once-in-a-lifetime chance to make policing less disproportionately white. The increase in minority ethnic officers has come mainly from Asian communities and not black ones.

Report author Rosie Carter said: “People do see a culture of racism within the police and criminal justice system but that manifests itself through a few individuals.”

The poll also showed 54% support among all ethnic minorities surveyed for “defunding” police, by moving money from law enforcement to “preventative areas such as youth work, social care and mental health services”.

The survey found most minority ethnic people (64%) thought the police were generally good, with a few individuals causing problems. Respondents were not asked specifically about whether they thought bias was systemic or institutional.

The report finds a generational difference and says: “Eighty-one per cent of over-65s agree that the police as a whole are good, it is only a few individuals who are a problem, compared to only 55% of 16-24s.”

Seventy-two per cent said that black and Asian people faced discrimination in their everyday lives, and just 9% disagreed. More than half in the last 12 months said they experienced or witnessed racism in the press, on social media, or in public.

Black Lives Matter protests had overwhelming support and were backed by 73% of minority ethnic people and 78% of black people, and 87% of all minority ethnic people aged 16-24. A majority of those identifying themselves as Conservative supporters supported BLM.

Experience of racism was also prevalent, especially for younger respondents. The report says: “Racist violence is a feature of many young people’s lives; only a third (35%) of 16-24s could say that they had not witnessed or experienced racist violence in the last 12 months compared with 75% of 55-64s and 80% of over-65s.” Just 15% of 16-24s could say they had not witnessed or experienced racism on social media.

The National Police Chiefs’ Council said it was drawing up an action plan to address racial inequalities in policing. It said: “It is crucial that we retain the trust of all communities, so that we can work with them to fight crime and keep people safe. We have recently invested significant time and resources into working out how we can better engage with communities of all backgrounds.”

Insp Andrew George, leader of the National Black Police Association, said: “Now is the time to acknowledge the evidence produced in this report and build long-term strategies to increase trust and confidence in black, Asian and minority ethnic communities.”

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