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Diversity in policing, really?

There have been lots of recent debates, both in the police service and in the news, about the importance of having a diverse workforce. What does that really mean?

Senior leaders in policing have called for police forces to positively discriminate in favour of black and ethnic minority officers (BME) in the face of a growing diversity crisis. Nationally, 14% of the population is from black and multi-ethnic communities, compared with 5% of police officers. Only 10% of Metropolitan Police officers are from an ethnic minority population, compared with 55% of Londoners. In November 2013, the government issued guidance to police forces to encourage them to use “positive action” to address their lack of race diversity. It is my view that positive action will not solve the lack of BME officers and staff in the police service: this would be short term solution to a long term problem.

Some initiatives that have been talked about to increase diversity in policing include:

  • Direct Entry: An 18-month course where management staff from a diverse range of backgrounds are trained to be police leaders, entering the force at Superintendent level
  • Fast Track: A programme allowing serving constables to progress to inspector level over three years, a process that usually takes around eight years
  • BME Progression 2018 Programme: A national programme led by the College of Policing, aiming to improve the recruitment, development, progression, and retention of officers and staff from BME backgrounds

Whilst there might be a flurry of activity to address this issue, these initiatives are short term, reactive, and – in this current climate of austerity – will not be sustained.

In my opinion, the police service is not dealing with the real issues about the lack of race diversity within the police service. So let’s talk about race with regards to positive discrimination and positive action. What does that truly meas for BME offices and staff in the police service?

There is often a lack of understanding about the difference between positive discrimination and positive action. Because of this, BME officers and staff have to deal with the backlash from their peers who think that they are getting preferential treatment: misunderstanding discrimination for action. There have been accusations about lowering standards to allow progression for BME officers and staff and, most importantly, racial bias. There is a resistance in the police service to having meaningful engagement and involvement with BME staff support associations such as the National Black Police Association and local Black Police Associations.

It has already been voiced by senior officers that there is an operational need for a more diverse workforce. If the police service needs victims to report crime, witnesses to prosecute criminals, and for BME communities to have trust and confidence in the police service, and if we are to truly have a diverse workforce, then we need to have a grown up conversation about race.

Let’s talk about race.

Headline Image Credit: “Rainbow Paper Chain People” by Emily Barney. CC BY-NC 2.0 via Flickr.

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