Scotland’s most senior police officer has admitted that the force is “institutionally racist and discriminatory” and that acknowledging it was a crucial step in winning public confidence and building an inclusive service.
Sir Iain Livingstone’s comments at a meeting of the Scottish Police Authority board, which oversees policing in the country, prompted calls from opposition parties for quicker action to combat discrimination and make it easier to report racist and sexist behaviour.
Behaviour and culture in policing across the UK has come under intense scrutiny since the 2021 rape and murder of Sarah Everard by Wayne Couzens, who was a serving officer in London’s Metropolitan Police, Britain’s largest force.
A review by Baroness Louise Casey in March found the police force to be racist, sexist and homophobic, a characterisation that Sir Mark Rowley, the force’s chief, rejected.
Casey’s review was released almost a quarter of a century after the Macpherson inquiry sparked by the racially motivated murder of Stephen Lawrence found the Met to be institutionally racist.
“Police Scotland is institutionally racist and discriminatory,” Livingstone, the chief constable, said on Thursday.
“Publicly acknowledging these institutional issues exist is essential to our absolute commitment to championing equality and becoming an anti-racist service.”
Livingstone’s admission that the force had problems with “racism, sexism, misogyny and discrimination” was praised by campaigners, opposition parties and Humza Yousaf, Scotland’s first minister.
In May last year, Livingstone told a public inquiry into the death of Sheku Bayoh, a black man who died after being restrained by police in Fife in 2015, that he was committed to making the force “anti-racist”.
“We are actively, genuinely, listening to under-represented communities, inside policing and across our country and beyond, to understand how we can better serve them,” Livingstone added on Thursday.
“We are committed to regularly and actively challenging and changing our own policies and procedures to eradicate unwitting bias.”
Livingstone’s statement was an “important and unprecedented intervention”, said Maggie Chapman, justice spokesperson for the Scottish Greens, which govern in Holyrood with the Scottish National party.
Scottish Labour’s justice spokesperson, Pauline McNeill, said the admission by Livingstone, who has been in charge of Police Scotland for the majority of its existence, revealed the slow pace of transformation.
Livingstone was appointed as head of Police Scotland in August 2018, having served as interim chief from the previous September. He is due to retire this summer. The force was formed in 2013 after the merger of Scotland’s eight regional forces and a specialised crime and drug agency.
Aamer Anwar, a prominent lawyer and activist who represents the Bayoh family, said on Twitter that Livingstone’s statement was vindication for victims of racial violence and injustice. Yousaf said the statement was “monumental, historic”.