‘Suspect’ Community Stereotyping and Criminal Investigations: “In pursuit of higher transparency”: A study of how police officers in England and Wales are believed to investigate people from the Muslim community




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De Montfort University


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Peer reviewed


In England and Wales, the ‘war on terror’ has been argued to impact adversely on existing race relations policies. Recent research has suggested that changes in legislation (such as wide discretionary powers of stop and search) and counter-terrorism measures (such as arrest and the extension of pre-charge detention of 28 days under the Terrorism Act [2006], and the use of control orders to detain without trial) may have contributed to the construction and reinforcement of the Muslim community as a ‘suspect’, which, in turn, may result in a police bias towards members of the Muslim community. Research showed that such police bias had contributed to the grave violations of human rights with appalling consequences that involved miscarriages of justice. This thesis focuses on an under-researched aspect of police investigative and interviewing processes, namely, the influence of prejudicial stereotyping on criminal investigations when investigating the suspects from a ‘suspect’ community. This thesis examined the influence of prejudicial stereotyping (within the context of criminal investigations) and originally contributed to the existing knowledge through the course of five studies. The first study focused on the role of prejudicial stereotyping in stop and search practices. This first study examined more than 2,100 stop and search records of the provincial police force in England and Wales, as well as 20 semi-structured interviews which were conducted with serving police officers (from the same force) to examine whether police officers use prejudicial stereotypes to inform suspicions in their day to day policing. This first study ascertained that officers rely on certain types of stereotypes (e.g. people’s age, race, appearance, location, and social class) to inform their suspicions. In order to examine how such prejudicial stereotyping may affect criminal investigations, the second study in this thesis utilised a novel approach. In this second study, an innovative instrument ‘the Minhas Investigative Interviewing Prejudicial Stereotyping Scale’ (MIIPSS) was developed and used to assess the apparent level of interviewers’ prejudicial stereotyping towards suspects from certain stigmatised groups. This study involved semi-structured interviews with twenty people, who had previously been interviewed as suspects in England and also eight very experienced lawyers. Both their views were measured using the MIIPSS before being subjected to a Guttman analysis. Statistical analyses showed that the MIIPSS satisfies the criteria for classification as a valid unidimensional and cumulative scale. It was found that the MIIPSS could be used as a tool to measure prejudicial stereotyping in investigative interviews towards suspects from stigmatised groups or individuals suspected of different types of crimes. The third study focused on the role of prejudicial stereotyping within the context of a ‘suspect’ community and investigative interviewing practices. As far as it is known, this is the first study that has obtained views from twenty-two real-life Asian Muslim suspects’ and explored their perceptions to examine whether prejudicial stereotypes could influence investigative interviews. Thematic analysis of interviews revealed that around two-thirds of the suspects reported perceiving the demonstration of various stereotyping by police officers during interviews, half of whom indicated that the interviewers demonstrated racial/religious stereotypes via discriminatory behaviour. The fourth study in this thesis broke new ground by examining the perceptions of fifteen very experienced legal representatives who had represented suspects in the police interviews. Thematic analysis of interview transcripts revealed that one-third of the legal representatives reported that they witnessed instances (in what these legal representatives described as a reckoned comparable case) when a white suspect was released whereas a charge was sought against an Asian Muslim suspect. Additionally, a quarter of these legal representatives mentioned instances of perceived police interviewers’ hostile and discriminatory behaviour towards their Muslim clients, also reporting that they felt such hostility was due to their client’s Muslim background. The final study in this thesis is novel and groundbreaking to have analysed the influence of prejudicial stereotyping on real-life police interviewers’ investigative decision-making within the context of the ‘suspect’ community. In order to explore whether a ‘suspect’ community stereotyping could influence police officers’ instigative decision-making, the fifth study utilised information gathered via semi-structured interviews, conducted individually with twenty serving police officers from a single police organisation in England. During these interviews the same scenario was put to each police officer in turn, only differing in the name of the suspect (which for one half of the sample referred to an indigenous person from the UK, while the other half was referred to a suspect with obvious Muslim name). As a result of crisp-set qualitative comparative analysis (csQCA), it was found that when the ‘Muslim suspect condition’ was applied, six times as many officers stated that they would charge him with possession and intent to supply class A drugs than did those in the indigenous suspect condition. These results triangulated with those of the suspects and legal representatives’ perceptions that the ethnicity and religious background may have played a role and influenced the outcome of investigations. In conclusion, findings from this thesis are not only consistent with the Hillyard’s study (i.e. the ‘suspect’ community stereotyping may result in a police bias against members of the ‘suspects’ community) but the findings also suggest that perceived prejudicial stereotypes (based on a suspect’s group membership) indeed may influence the outcome(s) of the criminal investigations.





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