Over the last few decades, the British police has faced an identity crisis. It has been criticised in a very high profile way for its lack of diversity, particularly for the lack of women and black and minority ethnic (BME) officers. However, it has come a long way in the years that have followed and whilst it is still not perfect, the police offer a more attractive career in a workforce that is more diverse and inclusive.
The infamous murder case of Stephen Lawrence in 1999 was a watershed moment, when the Metropolitan Police were labelled ‘institutionally racist’. Since then a lot of attention has been directed towards racial diversity in the ranks of the police.
The figures paint an uncomfortable situation in the police force. Statistics from the official College of Policing website show that police across the country do not represent the communities that they serve.
Whilst the government lists its statistics by local area, the British Transport Police indicate a broad national trend. 86% are white and at high ranks, the rate of BME employees declines further. At Sergeant level it is 90.2%, Inspector it is 95.6% and Chief Inspector and above, the police are 97.4% white. This demonstrates that while forces claim to be making progress on recruitment, there are still major challenges for the retention and progression of staff.
The House of Commons Home Affairs Committee reported in its 2016-2017 session that not a single police force in the country reflected its local demographics. Indeed, the National Black Police Association highlighted disproportionate levels of disciplinary action against BME police officers.
Many members of the police who come from ethnic minority backgrounds have spoken about the treatment they received. Nadeem Saddique, an Asian firearms officer, was awarded £457,000 compensation after experiencing years of racist abuse and discrimination.
The representation of women in the police is also disproportionate. They comprise 28.2% of the police population in 2015, though this has increased from 22.3% in 2006. There has been slow and steady increases over recent decades. At the senior ranks of chief inspector and above, 21.4% of high ranking officials are women, as opposed to 30.2% of women at constable rank.
Nonetheless, the police have taken many steps to improve their diversity. Two major schemes aim to encourage a wider range of people into policing. The Direct Entry scheme recruits at Inspector level. It aims to get people with fresh perspectives and different experiences into the higher ranks of the police. Police Now is a graduate scheme which trains people to be inspirational police officers and leaders. It deliberately looks for outstanding and diverse candidates to work on the frontline and transform disadvantaged communities.
The recruitment campaigns of individual local police forces also show some promise. West Midlands Police conducted a targeted recruitment campaign where they found geographical areas with the highest BME population. They took their message to universities, streets and places of worship.
Discovery days helped members of the public and potential applicants to meet police and members of police staff association. They held dedicated events to support underrepresented people, including pre-assessment centres, networking days and police officer buddies.
There are significant advantages to having a diverse police force. It reinforces the principle of policing by consent. People need to be able to trust that law enforcement officers can empathise with the unique challenges faced by their communities. The personal experiences of female and ethnic minority police officers are invaluable in strengthening the profession.
The police accept that there are still significant improvements to be made. However, measures are starting to take effect and are improving the diversity of the police.
“Mounted Policewoman at Manchester Pride 2010” by Stuart Grout is licensed under CC BY 2.0