Class Bias: The real problem with the Police

By: Muhammed Hussain, Student Voices writer

Institutional racism has been extensively tackled and diminished within the criminal justice system through many of the recommendations made in the Macpherson report. However, it is now time to address the overriding problem of class bias; not only present in the police force but also in courts.

Jeffrey H. Reiman, author of ‘The rich get richer and the poor get prison’, has stated that the crimes committed by the upper class are much less likely to be treated as criminal offences and thus are less likely to be prosecuted. Research conducted by Carson revealed that, in a sample of 200 firms, all had breached health and safety laws; but, only 1.5% of cases were prosecuted. Whilst, there is a much higher prosecution rate for the crimes perpetrated by the working class and the underclass.

Whilst ethnic differences are evident in stop and search operations, it is argued that this is due to socio-economic factors. Official statistics reveal that ethnic minorities are over-represented in the social groups most likely to be stopped, for example, the young and the financially deprived.

Police officers tend to use stereotypes of what they regard as typical criminals. Individual who fit with the stereotype are more likely to be stopped, arrested and charged – as argued by Cicourel. Therefore, people from working class backgrounds are more likely to be arrested. In contrast, middle class individuals are less likely to be charged because they do not fit the police’s stereotype of the typical criminal.

This suggests that police forces should seek to look like the social make-up of the community they are aiming to serve – not just in terms of ethnicity but also in in terms of social class. It also puts the demand that police officers should base their actions on evidence or reasonable suspicion rather than just typifications of the ‘typical delinquent’. It further denotes that stereotyping members of society fosters deep tension between certain social groups and the police, as research has shown that the police is predominantly regarded negatively among working class and underclass individuals. A possible explanation for this view is that some sections of society feel over-policed and under protected, thus creating an atmosphere of ‘us versus them’.

Using typifications in stop and search operations also has wider implications. For example, it distorts crime statistics as it makes crime appear a working class phenomenon. This means that policy makers and the criminal justice system invest little time and money to tackle white-collar crime or corporate crime.

One solution to the problem involves adopting a ‘democratic policing’ approach as argued by left realists, Kinsey, Lea and Young. Meaning that the police should aim to become more accountable to local communities. This would require local community members to have an input in deciding policies and priorities of the police.   
Class Bias: The real problem with the Police Class Bias: The real problem with the Police Reviewed by Student Voices on 16:00 Rating: 5

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