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Essay: Effects the murder of Stephen Lawrence on policing procedures

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  • Published: 3 July 2022*
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This essay will analyse the effects the murder of Stephen Lawrence, which lead to the Macpherson report had on changes in police procedures and policy; especially concerning ethnic communities. The report itself includes seventy proposals of recommendation to tackle racism in the police force; with the race relations legislation being an important policy to improving procedures as well as an investigation into the Metropolitan police force for institutional racism and the failures regarding procedure surrounding the Stephen Lawrence case (The Guardian, 1999).

The murder of eighteen-year-old Stephen Lawrence occurred 22nd April 1993 where the young man was stabbed resulting in his death; although, it was not until January 2012 that two individuals were found guilty of his murder (BBC, 2018). The Macpherson report that followed the murder outlined changes in practice this included the “abolishment of the double jeopardy rule”; before this law was abolished an individual could not be tried again for a crime they had previously been found not guilty for, this was a vital change in policy as it led to the conviction of the individuals found guilty of Stephen Lawrence’s murder (The Guardian, 2013). This proposes a positive effect on policing procedures as cases succeeding the Stephen Lawrence case may have not achieved a conviction had the double jeopardy rule not of been abolished. This is evident in the ‘Babes in The Woods’ murder as this change in policy had a positive effect on policing procedures as the police were able to use new forensic evidence thirty-two years later to convict the murderer of the two young victims (BBC, 2018).

Bowling and Phillips (2002, cited in Newburn, 2017, p.854) suggested that the recommendations that were outlined in the Macpherson report led “to the most extensive programme of reform in the history of the relationship between the police and ethnic minority communities.” This suggests a positive effect of the Macpherson report as due to some of the changes in policy and police procedures actioned by the recommendations outlined has meant that the police have begun to regain the trust of ethnic minority communities; which will support police practice in the future.

The 2009 Home Affairs committee report written ten years after the Macpherson publication highlights if and how the seventy improvement proposals outlined in the report had been met at time of publication; the Home Affairs report highlighted that Dwayne Brooks suggested an important area for progression was the “introduction of appropriately trained family liason officers in critical incident” (Parliament, 2009). The report highlights that this key improvement in police procedure surrounding appropriate training for family liason officers to deal with critical incidents has improved family liason officer’s ability to be able to ‘maintain relationships with families’, whilst obtaining necessary evidence and improving confidence in the police within the black community (Parliament, 2009). Thus, suggesting that this change in policing procedure and policy, due to the Macpherson report, has had a positive effect, especially within the ethnic community. The report also highlights that this change in policing procedure and policy has positively affected homicide detection rates which the report indicated at 90%, which is “the highest of any large city in the world” (Parliament,2009).

However, there are still issues surrounding police procedures especially within ethnic minority communities, in which the Macpherson report improvements may not have positively been actioned. This can be seen in the stop and search rates; policing statistics published by the government for the time period of 2016/2017 suggests that the ratio for white individuals stopped and searched was 4:1000 whereas the ratio for black individuals was 29:1000 (Gov, 2018). Thus, suggesting that police are stopping more black individuals that white, which may still suggest an element of institutional racism in the way police conduct this procedure.

The prison reform trust also highlights an over representation of Black minority ethnic groups (BMES) in prisons with the supporting evidence of the Lammy review, the reform trust suggests that there is a clear correlation between the ethnicity of an individual and custodial sentences being issued (Prison reform trust, 2019). Thus, suggesting discrimination in police procedures and the court system. Therefore, this may suggest that the Macpherson reports improvements have not positively been actioned in some elements of the criminal justice system.

In conclusion, where the recommendations have been put into place and are actively being worked upon, the Macpherson report has provided positive effects on police procedures and policy. However, evidence such as the stop and search statistics shows that there are still issues in policing procedures and policy that need to be addressed.

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