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Action after words: One year since Avon and Somerset Police declared institutionally racist

Chief Constable Sarah Crew at community event alongside Maya Mate Kole and Desmond Brown

In June 2023, Chief Constable Sarah Crew acknowledged that Avon and Somerset Police is institutionally racist. The acknowledgement was timed to coincide with a period of consultation and engagement with communities about changes to policies, practices and workforce culture aimed to reduce disproportionality and help Avon and Somerset Police become an anti-racist service.  

One year on from this acknowledgment, we are publishing a report outlining all the work that has taken place since then under the Race Matters programme, which brings together the aims of the National Police Race Action Plan and the recommendations in the local Tackling Disproportionality in Avon and Somerset Criminal Justice System report.  

Chief Constable Sarah Crew said: “When I made the statement on institutional racism, I said I would come back in one year to update on the progress we have made, to back my words with action.  

“The report we are publishing documents the activity that has taken place since then and, importantly, sets out how we will continue our progress in becoming a truly anti-racist organisation; maintaining momentum to improve trust and confidence in communities where it is most needed.   

“Had I not acknowledged that institutional racism exists in the organisation, I’m sure the work we are doing in this area would not have been successful – the communities most directly affected by it would not trust us, work with us or take us at our word. Without trust there is no consent, and without consent we no longer have legitimacy to police. It is this simple. It is fundamental. 

“In the past year over 70 people have joined our Race Matters Community Network, to help us shape anti-racist policing in Avon and Somerset. I’m so grateful to all those people, whose input and voices are central to the changes we are making.” 

Significant progress has been made in some key areas, including stop and search, a new deferred prosecution scheme called Chance to Change, and cultural awareness training for officers and staff. Avon and Somerset Police are also finalising their anti-racism strategy which has been co-produced with racially and ethnically minoritised communities and staff.  

Stop and search 

Avon and Somerset Police are launching a new, bespoke stop and search policy co-produced with communities. It will support officers to use their powers legitimately, to take items that cause harm off the streets. It sets clear expectations of officer conduct which communities can hold the police accountable for. 

In the past year, Avon and Somerset Police have been working with Creative Power Town (CPT), a community interest company (CIC) based in St Pauls in Bristol, to create online content that will help children and young people understand their rights in stop and search. ‘Unjust Stop’ is a short film that has been created by young people, for young people, empowering them and their peers to understand their rights. By partnering with CPT, Avon and Somerset Police are also supporting an organisation that challenges the people who groom children and exploit them into crime, by providing alternative opportunities which build their skills, resilience and confidence. CPT will work with Representation Matters to use this content to help educate children in local skills about their rights and relationships with the police. 

Chance to Change 

On 1st June, Avon and Somerset Police launched a new deferred prosecution (DP) model called Chance to Change. Young people arrested on suspicion of certain offences get a chance to engage with a tailored programme that addresses their needs, rather than entering the criminal justice system (CJS). 

Critically, the scheme doesn’t require an admission of guilt to be eligible. Evidence shows people with lower levels of trust and confidence in the police, in particular people aged 18 – 24 from racially / ethnically minoritised backgrounds, are less likely to admit guilt at this stage. This has led to disproportionate numbers of people from these backgrounds entering the CJS.  

Evidence from pilots on reduction in reoffending rates is strong. In London, there was a 58% reduction in reoffending rates for 18 – 22 years olds offered the DP compared to those cautioned or charged at the outset, regardless of their background and circumstances. Importantly, whilst reducing the reoffending rates for everyone taking part, it also removed the disproportionality for non-white people at the point of charging.   

Read more about the Chance to Change scheme

Training to improve culture 

Central to becoming anti-racist is ensuring that workforce culture changes. Avon and Somerset Police has created the Race Matters training programme which so far has seen 1,500 frontline officers from response and neighbourhood policing teams receive a full day’s input. It’s designed to help those in the organisation who have the most interactions with the public, to understand and relate to the issues around race and policing, showing the relevance to their operational duties and exploring how historical issues impact the way we deliver our service to our communities. We’re working in partnership with Aisha Thomas of Representation Matters, to ensure the days are authentic, valuable to officers and supportive of communities 

The training will evolve further in the coming year, with a plan to create a network of influencers and race allies, who can apply their learning on race and policing in their teams, ensuring the culture in the organisations continues towards one of anti-racism.