Charlotte Callen: Do you think the police have a problem with institutional racism with the levels of stop of search and engagement with black communities?
Andy Marsh: Our police within England and Wales depend entirely on the consent of the public, so fairness is the most important thing in policing for us – fairness to everybody regardless of their religion, ethnicity, sexuality, any difference. Now of course, we have to work hard at this every single day and of course there are things that go wrong sometimes but actually I am very very proud of the services we provide in Avon and Somerset and we won’t stop working hard until we can improve them as much as we can.
CC: Are there too many black men being stopped by police?
AM: Black men are disproportionally represented at every level in the criminal justice system and there is unfairness across of the whole of society. So what I would plea for is that let’s look at this across society. There are too many black men stop searched but this is something we are taking great steps to ensure fairness and transparency. Let me give you a few examples, our stop searches are scrutinised by members of an independent advisory group. They have the ability to view body worn video, these are video cameras worn by every single police officer and PCSO and they will record the stop searches to ensure we are fair and transparent. Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary has viewed stop searches across the whole country, they found 96% of our stop searches had reasonable grounds to conduct the search, this was what was recorded. Now, actually that is the best, the highest level out of all the police forces in England and Wales. I won’t be happy until that’s 100% so there is more work to be done. But, no I don’t think it helps anybody at all to say the Avon and Somerset Constabulary or the police are institutionally racist.
CC: Is it acceptable that if you are black man you are six times more likely to be stopped than if you are white?
AM: No, that is not acceptable and we are working really hard to improve that.
CC: So in what ways are you trying to improve that, what are you doing out on the streets?
AM: We regularly deliver training and refreshing so last year for all of our front line officers, we delivered a whole days training on unconscious bias. That’s a bias [someone has] without them saying oh that’s such and such person and I’m going to do that differently . We all have unconscious bias, you have it as well Charlotte and I will have it but if we are aware of it, we can do something about it. We trained all of our officers in unconscious bias last year. We are stepping up the amount of scrutiny from independent advisory groups and indeed the Police and Crime Commissioner’s independent panel on scrutiny that also looks at the use of force and other things. We are opening up so we are completely transparent around the way in which we use all of our powers. We have had members from different communities come and have a look at how we exercise use of force including taser in Avon and Somerset and I appeal to anyone watching this [interview] or listening to it, if you want to see more of what we do go on our website and sign up for a ride-along with a front line cop, you will be amazed at what you see and I believe you will also be impressed with quality and caring nature around our officers.
CC: Some people in the community say you are still too white at the top just like many public sector organisations and actually not reflective enough the community. Do you accept this and what can you do to make it better?
AM: Yes, I absolutely accept we are not representative enough of our community. I want Avon and Somerset to be an outstanding police force. I share this ambition openly internally and externally. If we are to be outstanding police force we need to be representative of our community we serve, not only so everyone sees us as their police, but also that we have within our organisation a diversity of ideas and solutions. I don’t want people like me, I want people who will change me. We are recruiting police officers and police staff, we’re recruiting indirect entry Superintendents. I only have 17 [superintendents] in the whole force and I would love, absolutely love to be able look at high quality black and minority ethic candidates and people from across society regardless of faith, sexuality or race.
CC: Do you accept the charge that some people have laid at your door that community relations between the police and the black community of Bristol is the worst it’s been for 20 years.
AM: No I don’t to be honest with you. I accept their opinion because they have for a valid opinion and they are perfectly entitled to express it. I need to listen but let me lay some evidence before you. Twenty years ago we were conducting 13,000 stop searches a year now we are conducting 3,000. We are far more judicious but no less [robust] about how we police our societies. I policed Bristol and St Pauls as an Inspector and as a PC 20/30 years ago and I know how different and better it is but let’s look at some facts. SARI was only set up in the mid-90s and they surely have made a difference [as an] institution that actually works with us to tackle discrimination. Independent Advisory Groups representative of black and other communities openly scrutinise all major incidents [including] stop searches, [and these have] only been set up in the last 20 years. The Race Relation Amendment Act 2000 making the police accountable for race relations. The Black Police Association, black officers representing [black] communities internally and externally since 1999. I think it is really unhelpful Charlotte to say we have not moved on in the last 20 years. Let’s look at the most significant piece of evidence – the terrible murder of Stephen Lawrence, the MacFerson Inquiry 1997 that reported in 1999 utterly, utterly transformed policing and so I actually think it is disrespectful to Doreen Lawrence the mother of Stephen and his father after all the work that they have done over the last 20 years. And actually let’s also look at the murder of young black men and women in Bristol and what type of response they get from the police. An outstanding response, The Murder Detectives, a programme that was award winning, shining a lot on our fantastic work. We have got much more to do. Unfairness is not right. We will work to make ourselves open and transparent and legitimate. We want to have young black men and women and different people in this organisation. I will not finish working until I have done my very best to achieve that.
CC: So, what is the next step then with this community? Even if you disagree with them, as you say they have a valid view and this is how they are feeling at the minute, this is the kind of fear expressing on radio stations, to me at BBC. So what can your organisation do now actually to reach out to mend these bridges if you like?
AM: It does take two people to have a relationship. I would welcome working with anybody who wants to see more about what work the police do and how they do it. I have mentioned the ride-along scheme. We will continue to redirect our efforts to recruit more different people within Avon and Somerset and one of the changes I have made in the last six months is to change the selection criteria at the assessment centre to give additional points and values to people who bring a second language in to policing. We need those skills. We police a multi-cultural society. We’ve worked with psychologists around how those tests are conducted to make sure they are fair. But we need to work with the community so I would appeal to people expressing these views to actually work with us to make things better.
CC: So you would hold meetings with them, you would meet other people who we’ve film and meet with them?
CC: There was one particular incident and I know there is IPCC are looking in to it so you cannot talk about the specifics but the tasering of Ras Judah who was one of your race relations activist. That incident is out there and with social media now we can’t get away from it being out there. And a lot of people hold the view that it would not have happened if it was a white 63-year-old man. Now that is the back drop to which you are working. Taking out the specifics of that incident to one side, how would you start to build bridges following that incident?
AM: You know, and those listening may know or might not know, that I am not allowed to speak about this as it is subject to an independent investigation. We actually have body worn footage of the incident of the two officers, I cannot show you and I cannot comment on it. We have spent a lot of time during this interview talking about fairness haven’t we? It’s incredibly important to all people, it’s in the human condition, all we want is to feel treated fairly. Real people do policing, mothers, fathers and children. And this week I have been to the funeral of Keith Palmer, a man who laid his life down stopping an intruder getting in to Parliament. I am making an appeal to people listening. Just keep an open mind, let the investigation run, if there are lessons to be learned and actions taken, I will take them. But actually, let’s be fair on the police men and women, let’s be fair on the police staff the civilians who work with us, they are real people and they deserve fairness as well, they are the real people and I would ask the media and the people just to reserve judgement because there is a process that needs to play out here and when this is finished I will talk fully with you, I would love to release the body worn video and we can watch it together, we can try and understand what’s happened so please wait a minute and don’t use this as a reason, a wedge to come between the police who care passionately about what we do in the communities we serve and the public who need us to do a great job.
CC: Having spoken to a lot of people over the last couple of weeks, there is very much a sense that Bristol as a city of two halves. If you like, the haves and have nots, it’s not just about racism, it’s about wealthy income and where you live. As a police force how do you play your part in making the people who may be feel like they are the have nots feel a better, bigger part of our society?
AM: We touch many hundreds and thousands of people a year in ways that are not seen or heard and many stories which go untold. I get many many letters of thanks for the way that my officers and staff have dealt with tragic deaths, missing people, overdoses, mental health crisis, 80% of what we do is not about crime. Those people that you describe as the ‘have nots’ … are suffering the consequences of bad things happening in society. My officers have a huge amount of contact with those people that are described as the ‘have nots’. We care about that. Let me tell you the reasons why I’m in policing, we are routinely unarmed, we are low on numbers, we have high accountability, we operate with the consent of the public because crucially, we stand up for people who haven’t got a voice who might have been trafficked in to the crime in Britain, they might have suffered, they might be children they don’t have not got a voice. I would actually say we are world class at speaking up in the British police for people who do not have a voice. I would say to them you need to be represented in the police force just as much as anyone else. I want to recruit young men and women from Southmead estate, from south Bristol estates as well as central Bristol, we’re here for them and that’s why we are in the police.
CC: Just finally, you touched on the fact you’ve policed in central Bristol and a lot of the areas we are talking about. Just tell us what it is was like doing that and how valuable that community is in a way to the police force.
AM: We are their police force, I am their Chief Constable, we need to strive and roll up our sleeves to make sure they do feel we are an organisation that they can join, they want their children to join and that they will call us to report a crime. Actually, very significantly, we are successful in tackling crime and disorder in Bristol. It was voted the most desirable city to live in for lots reasons but one of which, is it is actually a fantastic and largely a safe city to live in. So I would say in my 30 years policing within Avon and Somerset, the quality of what we do and the quality of the people doing it has utterly transformed. Policing has changed for the better and is nowhere finished yet so I would urge [people] to understand and accept that we have honest, fair and good intent and to do everything they can to work with us. So [PCC] Sue Mountstevens is just about finishing recruiting for her independent residents’ panel and they will be all over what we do. The use of force, the use of taser, the use of stop search [and] the way in which we deal with critical incidents of crime. In the way an independent advisory group with different people with challenging and critical views are at the moment, I would urge them to do their very best to help us to be the police force they want us to be.