Growing ‘culture of extremism’ among UK and European police forces, report warns

Growing ‘culture of extremism’ among UK and European police forces, report warns

Officers are sharing racist content online, with some wearing the ‘thin blue line’ avatar, associated with white nationalism among US police

Police forces in the UK and across Europe are suffering from a growing “culture of extremism”, according to a report that warns of an increase in officers sharing racist and far-right content online. The report, by the Institute of Race Relations (IRR), says UK policing has a growing extremist problem, and highlights issues across Europe. In France, 81% of gendarmes declared they would vote for far-right politician Marine Le Pen.

In France, Belgium, Germany and Hungary former high-ranking police officers have become extreme-right mayoral and parliamentary candidates.

In the UK, a series of recent cases involving the Metropolitan police have further damaged the reputation of a force long accused of being “institutionally racist”. They include officers sharing images on WhatsApp of two murdered black sisters. Another group of officers, at a central London station, were found to have joked about rape, killing black children and beating their wives.

The Met was last month placed on special measures after scandals including the murder of Sarah Everard by a serving Met officer, the strip-searching of innocent black children, and stop-and-search controversies including that of the British Olympic sprinter Bianca Williams.

Liz Fekete, director of IRR, said: “Our conclusion that the dehumanising mindset and overall sense of impunity and entitlement displayed in police WhatsApp groups is a symptom, not a cause, of authoritarian trends in policing, will no doubt make for uncomfortable reading.”

Fekete added: “Racism has become entrenched in policing as the rank and file are resituating themselves as society’s victims and organising on an ever more extremist agenda.”

The report also warns that the “thin blue line” avatar and hashtag are still seen on the Twitter feeds of police officers, including a safer neighbourhood team in London, and they have been observed on the uniforms of officers in Manchester. In the US, the thin blue line avatar and “blue lives matter” movement are associated with white nationalism, with serving and retired officers implicated in the Capitol Hill siege.

Fekete warned that the thin blue line had become a “besieged and misunderstood minority group” with a proliferation of victim narratives that represent rank-and-file officers as the aggrieved party in debates on police racism and use of force.

The report also warns of a link between racist attitudes and operational practice, particularly in relation to predictive policing and racial profiling. Last December, concerns were raised about the Met’s Operation Pima in which 61% of individuals identified within intelligence reports as the “most prolific or violent offenders” in London were black.

Ilyas Nagdee, from Amnesty International, said the research was important particularly as discussions about “alternative approaches to public safety” gained ground.

Mark Rowley was last week unveiled as the Met’s new commissioner, a figure whose previous position as its head of counter-terrorism means he is well versed in the challenges posed by extremism, both within and outside the force.

Mark Townsend