Diversity quotas are nothing new to the police service – the aim being to change the workforce demographic to be more ‘representative’ of the communities it serves.
However, despite almost a decade of trying the Metropolitan police and other police services across the country continue to fail to meet their quotas. Yet, the Met have now set themselves a new challenge, undoubtedly prone to another round of failure – to meet a 40% BAME recruitment target for new police officers.
Taking a look at the Met’s own statistics on diversity, despite BAME communities making up 42.6% of the London population, still only 13.3% of officers identify as BAME. Looking through the Met Inclusion and Diversity Strategy (2017-2021) under the leadership of Commissioner Cressida Dick, I remain perplexed as to how the service still fails to recognise a fundamental problem within the service that ultimately leads to a failure to recruit and retain the BAME talent it so desperately seeks.
The problem is this – Much of vision of the strategy is very much ‘visible’ HR centric with only a small portion of it dedicated to engagement, independent advisory groups and a recognition of disproportionate dissatisfaction amongst the BAME public. What’s important is for the service to embed within its D&I strategy from its core is a recognition of operational failing towards diverse communities and its strategic and operational practices embedded by a predominantly white-male dominated police service that still struggles to find its way out of the deep hole of institutional racism that remains the status quo.
It needs to restore the confidence of the communities it seeks to engage…for members of those communities to feel comfortable in engaging with it.
Take, for example – operational interaction with BAME.
Those who are black are nearly 10 times more likely to be stopped than people who identify as white. In Dorset, the figure increases to 25 times higher a likelihood of being stopped if black. Analysis by Liberty Investigates and the Guardian earlier this year revealed that BAME people are 54% more likely to be issued with a fixed-penalty notice by police under coronavirus rules than white people. In 2017, figures revealed that black people were disproportionately affected when it comes to force being used against them by the Metropolitan police service.
I can go on and pull statistics from a range of sources spanning over the last four decades relating to all aspects of operational policing in the UK. The point is – race relations still remain low whilst operationally the disproportionate use of stop and search, force and false arrest of those that identify as BAME remains high.
Yet, it’s those from these disproportionately affected groups that the police service rely so heavily upon to meet its quotas?
A personal story, from someone ‘BAME’ – and my relationship with the police
Despite warnings against it by those whose opinion I otherwise hold in incredibly high regard, in 2015 I tried to join the Metropolitan police service as an officer. I could have opted for many different higher-paying, less stressful career paths, particularly as a Master’s graduate from UCL with solid working experience in a London local authority. However, I always had a passion to join the police and so that was what I wanted to do and was determined to do. My passion was fuelled by my interest in the area of honour and faith-based abuse and other forms of specific domestic abuse that affects those from BAME communities.
I passed the initial selection, medical and fitness process with ease. Then came ‘vetting’.
Whilst battling a lengthy vetting process, the experience of which I and other BAME candidates had discussed at the time in a WhatsApp group of being grossly unfair towards us compared to how white candidates were being easily vetted through and receiving their start-dates, it became obvious to prospective BAME officers that an introduction to institutional racism starts from the very moment a new recruit is asked to hand their security vetting forms in. Two officers who applied at the same time that I did but did pass their vetting clearance, didn’t receive a start date until one whole year after applying, despite fellow (white) candidates from their cohort having completed half of their two-year probationary period already.
In my case, I was called in to an intimidating meeting with a senior official from HR who, simply put – made me feel like a criminal and interrogated the living daylights out of me for something that I was never charged for in the first place – something that the Met admitted to wrongdoing for. I then wrote lengthy correspondence to the then Commissioner, Bernard Hogan-Howe, which fell on deaf ears and with the standard response of “I will ask for this to be looked into”.
The final rejection letter simply read “The Commissioner reserves the right to refuse candidates without giving reason”. It took a complicated Subject Access Request and various Freedom of Information Act Requests to obtain minutes to a security vetting panel meeting that finally revealed the reason for rejection – yes, low and behold – the wrongful, unlawful arrest which should never have been retained on the Met’s computer systems anyway. My story was published in the Sunday Times.
A few months later, I was accepted into another police service and did pass the vetting and security clearance process very quickly. In that service, I was one of only about five BAME officers in the cohort of fifty. Whilst unable to divulge specific details – all five of us…left within two years.
The experience of BAME officers from vetting to training school and deployment with a tutor vastly differs from that of white officers. It is something I can personally attest to and have first-hand experience of. It is also widely documented as experiences of other BAME officers ranging from PC rank to Chief Superintendent and beyond.
Further, BAME officers continue to be far more likely to face disproportionate disciplinary procedures and despite HR rhetoric, far less likely to be considered for unique placements, promotion and career development opportunities. In county services, BAME officers quite literally stick out like sore-thumbs, are excluded from social events, misunderstood by management and underestimated, undermined and treated differently by virtue of their observable difference in skin colour.
Unfortunately, my experiences over the past decade with the police has led to complex post-traumatic stress. I now battle with panic attacks, anxiety disorder and sleepless nights. From feeling an innate desire from a young age to want to be a policeman, I now find myself in a position of resentment and distrust towards the entire establishment. No – not individual officers, many of whom I know and respect, who are decent and passionate individuals with great potential; but rather – their superiors, who continue to work hard to maintain the status quo.
When the Metropolitan Police Service was founded by Sir Robert Peel in 1829, a core principle to its formation and existence is something we may all be rather familiar of, but not exactly know the true meaning of – that is “policing by consent”.
Throughout this article, keen observers would see that I’ve avoided using the phrase “police force”. It’s because a ‘force’ is not what the police ‘service’ is and it should never be regarded a ‘force’. I think this is an important distinction to draw, as to regard the police as a force takes what the service is supposed to be for to something more oppressive by mere association with the word “force”.
I know this may well be regarded something rather small in nature. Also, even Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary refers to police services as police forces. However, I truly believe that for an inclusive and encompassing police service to exist, it needs to go back to those founding principles and reaffirm itself as a service based on consent.
The Police need to reaffirm as an organisation of professionals that seek to prevent crime, engage with communities and work in a more integrated, prejudice-free and compassionate manner with healthcare, social-work and voluntary sector organisations. Arrest needs to be considered a truly last and necessary resort, practices on the use of force and in-particular the use of handcuffs needs desperately to be reviewed, with individual officers to be held to account for their actions. The retention of data or ‘intel’ needs to be reviewed in-particular with regards to ‘intelligence’ that has been obtained by means of unlawful and/or oppressive stop and searches, arrests or other operational dealings with members of the public.
Because right now, if I could stare Commissioner Dick in the face and bluntly express to her what my view of the police is, it would be this:
“An institutionally racist force that doesn’t bother to investigate crimes and things that truly affect people, but instead has officers that roam-free with the knowledge of thuggish Territorial Support Group back-up being minutes away. A force that bullies the minority and criminalises people wrongly and meanly gathers intelligence to feed its ever growing database of criminalisation.
A force that theoretically should be a role-model and the best ‘police service’ in the world, yet has a very very…very long way to go until it deserves to hold that title”
Without sorting operational matters out first and beginning a process of rebuilding trust with the public from whom the consent of is a necessity to policing, the police never will be the so-called ‘inclusive’ and ‘diverse’ organisation it apparently seeks to become.
Image source: change.org