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One in four shot by UK police are black, yet tiny fraction of armed officers are black – AOAV study finds

A quarter of people shot by armed police forces in the UK in the last five years were black, whilst only 0.2% of armed officers identify as black, new figures reveal.

Out of 33 incidents since 2015 – excluding live terrorist events – nine of those shot by officers were black, including four killed and five wounded. This constitutes 27% of the total shootings.

In England and Wales, in the 7,670 times, over the past two years, where armed police pointed their guns at a subject but didn’t fire, one in four incidents, (1,933), involved a black person. In the Metropolitan Police, this figure rose to 48% last year. From 2018/19, the Met aimed a firearm at a black person 665 times, nearly twice the rate of white people (373 incidents).

Despite the high proportion of black people being targeted by armed police, black officers make up a tiny fraction of police who are authorised to use a firearm (AFOs), a series of Freedom of Information requests by the charity Action on Armed Violence has revealed.  Of the 47 police forces asked in the UK, 35 responded.

Of the 30 forces that specified the number of black AFOs they had, there were just 29 black officers listed. That’s just 0.2% of the combined number of 12,572 armed officers from these 30 forces.

This does not include the Met, who are responsible for the most (16) shootings in past five years. They said they “do not record specific Officer Defined Ethnicity” for armed officers. However, data from their armed officer training programme shows that since 2017, 2.8% (38) of the participants were black. Once on the training, the pass rate for black officers was 10% lower than for white candidates.

The force with the most AFOs is the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) with 7,244. All PSNI officers receive firearms training and are routinely armed while on duty. The Northern Irish police have not shot anyone in the past five years.

Just 2.6% of armed officers, including within the Met, were Black, Asian, and minority ethnic (or BAME – used to refer to members of non-white communities in the UK). The Met has 225 BAME armed officers, 8.5% of their total 2,669. London’s population is over 40% BAME.

In England and Wales, there was an 18% increase in the number of AFOs, between 2016-19, from 5,639 to 6,653.

14 regions don’t have a single black AFO amongst their 1,313 armed officers. Northamptonshire, West Mercia and Durham have no BAME AFOs, from a combined force of 222. 

The research by AOAV also found that, when terrorist incidents are removed, police shootings are lethal almost half (43%) of the time – meaning that of the 31 people listed as shot, 14 were killed.  The lethal efficiency of England and Wales Police forces is in contrast to the US police where just one in three people shot are killed, with the remainder wounded.  In total, some 5,680 people have been shot and killed in the US since January 1, 2015, and October 8, 2020, according to the Washington Post.  AOAV data from seven US cities, between 2011 and 2016, reveals that for every person fatally shot, two were wounded.

The racial breakdown highlighted by AOAV’s findings in the UK has caused concern among police experts. “Armed policing has traditionally been seen as a hostile environment for BAME officers,” Andrew George, the President of the National Black Police Association, told AOAV’s researchers.

He pointed to bias in the security vetting process, assessments, promotions and a lack of role models as reasons for the lack of BAME AFOs.

“There is racial bias by police. This is displayed in our culture, training and briefings and stems from a lack of representation across policing particularly in specialisms and at higher ranks.” He added: “We must ensure briefings do not prime officers to fear more violence being used by BAME subjects.”

BAME AFOs have told Inspector George that “ex-military officers are displaying bias” against them, perhaps carrying prejudice “due to their postings overseas.”

George, who was himself an armed officer in Northern Ireland for a decade, says he was discriminated against because of his ethnicity. He took his case to an employment tribunal but his claims were dismissed.

“Grievances are also poorly managed with officers investigating each other and either try to discredit the victim or justify the decisions of the alleged discriminator,” he told AOAV.

But when the tables are turned and BAME officers are the subject of a complaint, they face harsher penalties. A 2020 review of the police workforce found that BAME police are dismissed at more than twice the rate of their white colleagues. Similarly, non-white officers are far more likely to resign and less likely to reach retirement.

In the Metropolitan Police, a 2016 investigation showed that BAME officers are twice as likely to be subject to misconduct allegations. And when such claims are unsubstantiated, “they were more likely than white officers to still receive management action”.

In July this year, the Independent Office for Police Conduct launched a review of racial bias amongst police, focusing on the use of force and stop and search, in the same week that the Metropolitan Police apologised to athlete Bianca Williams for a stop and search incident.

Nadeem Saddique

One armed officer who felt hostility from his unit is Nadeem Saddique. In 2015, he was awarded £457,000 in compensation from Cleveland Police after years of racial discrimination. The only Asian in his unit, he was called ‘just a Paki’ and a ‘black cunt’ by his superiors who conspired to have him removed from armed duties. Six officers were investigated and cleared by the Independent Office for Police Conduct in 2019. One colleague reportedly sported an English Defence League symbol on their holster, which referenced Muslims and a crusade. This was never formally investigated.

5 forces with the most authorised firearms officers – a breakdown

The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) has a total of 7,244 armed officers. Of which, 41, 0r 0.5%, are BAME, and 2, or 0.03%, are black.  

The London Metropolitan Police has a total of 2,669 armed police officers, of which 225, or 8.4%, are BAME. The Met does not record figures on specific minority ethnicities.

The Ministry of Defence police force contains 2,440 armed officers, of which 67, or 2.7%, are BAME, and 9, or 0.4%, are black.

Police Scotland have 538 armed officers, of which 1.7% are BAME (this works out as 9 officers). The force refused to release the number of specifically black armed officers they had.

West Yorkshire has the fourth largest police force containing 227 armed officers, of which 9, or 4%, are BAME, and 2, or 0.9%, are black.

The link to the full dataset can be viewed here.