A survey of police officers in Scotland has found that many of them felt ‘disempowered and disenchanted’ after the chief constable said the force was institutionally racist. The survey, conducted by the Scottish Police Federation (SPF), also revealed that officers felt ‘undermined and undervalued’ by the senior leadership and the media.
Chief constable’s admission sparked backlash
The survey was carried out in response to the comments made by chief constable Iain Livingstone in June 2023, when he admitted that Police Scotland was institutionally racist and pledged to tackle the issue. He said: “I recognise that, as the leader of policing in Scotland, I need to acknowledge that and I do acknowledge that. Policing is institutionally racist, as are other parts of society and other public services.”
His remarks came after a series of incidents involving allegations of racial discrimination and misconduct by police officers, such as the death of Sheku Bayoh in custody in 2015, the stop and search of a black couple in Edinburgh in 2020, and the use of a spit hood on a black man in Glasgow in 2021.
However, his admission sparked a backlash from some rank-and-file officers, who felt that he had ‘thrown them under the bus’ and ‘tarred them all with the same brush’. The survey, which received responses from more than 4000 officers, showed that 71% of them disagreed or strongly disagreed with the chief constable’s statement, while only 12% agreed or strongly agreed with it.
Officers felt unsupported and demoralised
The survey also revealed that many officers felt ‘unsupported and demoralised’ by the senior leadership and the media, who they perceived as being ‘biased and unfair’ towards them. Some of the comments from the respondents included:
- “The chief constable has lost the respect of the majority of his officers. He should resign.”
- “The media are constantly looking for ways to undermine and criticise the police. They never report the positive things we do.”
- “The senior management are out of touch with the reality of frontline policing. They are more interested in pleasing the politicians and the public than supporting their staff.”
The survey also showed that 83% of the officers felt that the SPF was the only organisation that represented their views and interests, while only 9% felt that the chief constable did so.
SPF calls for action to restore confidence
The SPF, which represents more than 17,000 officers across Scotland, said that the survey results were ‘deeply concerning’ and called for urgent action to restore the confidence and morale of the police workforce. The SPF chair, David Hamilton, said:
- “This survey paints a bleak picture of how our members feel about the leadership and direction of policing in Scotland. They feel disempowered and disenchanted by the chief constable’s admission of institutional racism, which they see as a betrayal of their professionalism and integrity.”
- “They also feel undermined and undervalued by the senior management and the media, who they believe are not supportive or fair towards them. They feel that the only organisation that stands up for them is the SPF, which is a sad indictment of the state of policing in Scotland.”
- “We urge the chief constable and the Scottish Government to listen to the voices of our members and take immediate steps to address their concerns and restore their confidence and morale. We also call on the media to report on policing in a balanced and accurate way, and to recognise the challenges and risks that our members face every day in serving and protecting the public.”
The chief constable and the Scottish Government have not yet responded to the survey results or the SPF’s demands.