Are 'bobbies' as friendly, honest as Londoners thought? Police chief launches program to correct abuses listed in new report
London's police force stands accused of widespread racial and sexual discrimination, and significant numbers of its members are said to be dishonest, prone to drunkenness, and in the habit of using threats when dealing with suspected criminals.
The charges, contained in an independent report commissioned by the metropolitan police itself, have been broadly accepted by Sir Kenneth Newman, head of the London force.
Already a program has been launched in an urgent attempt to correct abuses detailed in a 1,000-page study conducted over a three-year period by the highly respected Policy Studies Institute.
The report, based on detailed observation of 1,700 members of ''the Met,'' was commissioned by Newman's predecessor, Sir David McNee, who asked the PSI for a portrait ''warts and all.''
Newman last week described the report as ''the most comprehensive scrutiny of a major police force ever carried out in Europe.'' He noted that the study, in addition to describing abuses, showed that most Londoners approve of their police force. Even among blacks, who are said to have been at the receiving end of improper police behavior, a majority believe that most police are fair.
Until recent years the image of the London bobby as a low-profile law enforcement officer with a good reputation among Britons and foreigners alike seemed secure. But the PSI study pinpoints numerous areas of serious concern about police behavior.
Key points in the report:
* Racial prejudice by police is pervasive and is expressed in a host of abusive terms used to describe Britons of minority groups.
* London's police force is very much a male preserve, with women held to a 10 percent membership quota. In many cases women police officers are viewed with contempt by their male counterparts and promotion of females is held back.
* Police officers frequently lie to protect colleagues from charges of misconduct and say they see little wrong in doing so.
* Police misuse the technique of ''stop and search,'' especially where blacks are suspected of crime. The method has helped to secure many convictions, but the report severely criticizes the racial assumptions behind such police conduct.
* Police discipline is maintained by using a military style of management. But too often junior officers are not properly supervised and are allowed to seek excitement in violent confrontations with suspected criminals and political demonstrators and in high-speed car chases.
The accumulation of evidence apparently gave Commissioner Newman no option but to accept the findings of the report. He conceded that he himself would not have commissioned such a study.
Newman emphasized that many of the accusations in the report had already prompted major reconsideration of standards of police conduct in the British capital.
The PSI study was based largely on the work of researchers who spent more than two years working side by side with London police officers of varying ranks.
In many instances, drunkenness was a way of life, with officers who refused to consume alcohol finding themselves at a disadvantage among their colleagues.
Although many of London's minorities felt alienated from the police, many Londoners - regardless of color - thought the police did a reasonably good job of crime prevention.
Newman has already ordered a new style of management training for London police officers, with the stress on flexibility, and promotion based not on paper examination alone but involving a full assessment of each officer's abilities.
Leaders of London's minority community were generally not surprised at the study's findings. For some years they have been alleging that police stop-and-search methods were being abused, and that officers on the beat often used obscene or abusive language when speaking to blacks.
There is considerable satisfaction among black leaders that the report is so detailed and that Commissioner Newman has not tried to sidestep its main conclusions.
Newman said the report made many points in favor of the police, and the home secretary, Leon Brittan, also stressed this aspect.
Government officials however accepted that more than a tiny minority of ''bad apples'' were involved in the abuses detailed by the PSI findings.