Bias in policing at least partly explains why ethnic minorities were more likely to be fined for Covid offenses than their white counterparts, study says.
The study, seen by the Guardian, was based on in-depth interviews with officers patrolling the streets. The officers spoke confidentially with academics from the University of Liverpool and served in troops in northern England including Cheshire, Cumbria, Merseyside, Greater Manchester and West Yorkshire.
Nationally, figures for England and Wales show that ethnic minorities were almost twice as likely to be fined than whites.
A study author says the findings show that institutional racism likely influenced how pandemic powers were exercised in some cases.
Officers had hastily drafted powers to fine people without a good excuse not to be home as instructed by the government. Some officers said they believed that certain minority ethnic groups were more likely to defy the rules, without any basis for this belief.
Some officers also targeted minority ethnic groups who were more likely to attract police attention as potential suspects.
Police chiefs wanted fines as a last resort, and people under suspicion were encouraged to obey the rules before a fine was handed out. The police’s approach, the study says, “legalized a differential approach to enforcement that reflected pre-existing biases in policing, including biases in beliefs about what types of people are more likely to break the rules and deserve and demand punishment.” to secure their compliance with the restrictions”.
The study said: “Many of our participants had developed their own ideas and generalizations about how different ethnic groups behaved regarding the Covid restrictions and, in some cases, the reasons for any differences between groups.”
Some officers told investigators that ethnic minorities were more visible to police because they lived in “poor” or “problematic” areas where police were more frequent, or because they were more likely to live in smaller, overcrowded homes with less outdoor space. space, the study said.
Officers shared the difficulty of enforcing the rules, which changed often, with one saying, “It was almost impossible to control it as we were told to control it.”
Liz Turner, the report’s co-author, said biases and attitudes already in place among the police were being applied to enforce pandemic rules: “What we found suggested the likelihood that institutional racism was at work.”
She added: “There was a return to a ‘business-as-usual’ mentality, a mindset that the problematic groups that previously broke Covid rules were those that were already viewed with suspicion.”
An officer told the study: “Without trying to sound like the racist white cop, there are a lot more violations in that area. Far more has been committed by Asian men than any other ethnicity.”
Another of the 32 officers who spoke in depth for the investigation said: “I tend to find that the Asian community at the division is more obstructive and less likely to follow the advice.”
Turner said: “There is no evidence that ethnic minority groups are more visibly breaking the rules than other groups. Unwitting discrimination was built into the organization’s processes. None of the officers said anything they thought was outlandish in terms of bias.”
Officers talked about imposing fines based less on the risk of violating rules to spread the disease, and more because they felt people disrespected their authority. Turner said: “There wasn’t much focus on the risk of the disease. It was, ‘There are people who break the rules and don’t accept our authority to make them follow the rules.'”
Andy George, the president of the National Black Police Association, said: “Of course there was bias in the way they interact with communities. It highlights the stereotypes and prejudices that exist about ethnic minorities. It’s worrying.”
In June 2020, the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) said it would conduct research to explain disproportionality – the term used to describe when one ethnic group experiences more police power than another, without necessarily being biased. .
The NPCC declined to comment further.