London, Northern Ireland police in racism inquiry

April 6, 2012 - 11:06 AM

LONDON (AP) — Police chiefs in London and Northern Ireland said Friday they had suspended officers from duty following a raft of new investigations into alleged racism, including some cases reported by police staff to their superiors.

London's Metropolitan Police, Britain's largest police force, said it was dealing with 10 new race-related complaints involving 20 staff, among them an allegation that an officer used a racial slur while arresting a black man in the aftermath of England's riots last August.

Deputy Commissioner Craig Mackey said a total of eight officers have been suspended while the cases are investigated by the country's police standards watchdog.

In Northern Ireland, four police officers were suspended from duty after the discovery of racist and sectarian text messages.

"We expect our staff to behave ethically and with the utmost integrity at all times both on and off duty," the Police Service of Northern Ireland said in a statement. "Any officer who fails to abide by the high standards of behavior expected of all officers as laid out in our code of ethics can expect to be rigorously investigated."

As part of attempts to address Catholic alienation within Northern Ireland, reform of the then overwhelmingly Protestant police force was a central goal of the U.S.-brokered Good Friday peace accord of 1998 in Northern Ireland.

Under the deal, the IRA renounced violence in 2005 and the IRA-linked Sinn Fein party in 2007 accepted the lawful authority of the Northern Ireland police for the first time. Protestant leaders responded by forming a unity government with Sinn Fein as the Good Friday pact had intended.

Since then, the Police Service of Northern Ireland has risen to 29.76 percent Catholic. In 2001, the force it replaced — the Royal Ulster Constabulary — was 8.3 percent Catholic.

London police have long attempted to tackle allegations of racism. A major report commissioned in the wake of the 1993 death of a black teenager concluded that Scotland Yard was "institutionally racist" and had failed to properly investigate the killing because of its hostility to London's black community.

Superintendent Leroy Logan of the National Black Police Association said that while race relations have improved since the report, he was "disappointed" by the Met's apparent failure to take effective action following years of feedback from black communities.

"Young people have been saying how they believe they are being dealt with disrespectfully, not shown enough dignity, (and) casual racist comments were being used," he said. "We were telling the Met Police, some two or three commissioners back, this is what is coming up. But, like so many things, it lands on deaf ears until such a time as a free press — the media — get hold of it and forces people into action."

Logan, who has more than 30 years of policing experience, said the force needs to "get its act together" and put race "back on the agenda."

Mackey noted Friday that the fact that police officers themselves had reported allegations of racism showed that attitudes inside the force had changed.

"Whilst any use of racist language is abhorrent, what is reassuring for me is that in the 10 cases that have been referred ... six involve other officers who have stood up and raised concerns, showing that we are an organization that will not stand for any racist behavior," he told reporters.

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Associated Press writer Shawn Pogatchnik in Dublin and Cassandra Vinograd in London contributed to this report.