Monday, 28 January 2013


I have been listening to debates today on the proposal by Sir Peter Fahy Chief Constable of Greater Manchester Police to change the law. He wants to introduce positive discrimination to address the woeful lack of Black Asian and Minority ethnic (BAME) police officers across the ranks in the police service. Apart from the absence of female commentators on the issue - leading to conversations largely referring to police officers in the masculine - I was struck at the lack of voice from BAME individuals, campaign groups and officers.

I have worked in the police service with responsibility for recruitment. I have worked locally and nationally with BAME officers (& women too for that matter), all facing sarcastic comments when gaining promotion (notably only to Sergeant level) that it was their skin colour (or gender) that secured it for them. They have told me that they always felt they had to be twice as good as the majority (largely white men) & of their fear of challenging the institution.

What is needed is much more than a change in the law. As it happens this Government is not only eroding equality and general employment rights, it is also making sure only those of significant financial means can access justice. The law is really of no consequence if it cannot be accessed or enforced.

The definition of Institutional Racism was a sound one as set out by Lord McPherson in the Stephen Lawence report 1999, but one that never really led to cultural change. A leading race equality public figure once told me that 'we were sold a pup' when referring to the Race Relations (Amendment) Act 2000. I know from direct experience that it became a public sector paper exercise to prove how 'non racist' services were, rather than to achieve meaningful change.

The legacy of this is the lack of significant progress towards race equality in recruitment in Suffolk Police and across criminal justice agencies. Additionally the continued rise in racial inequalities, again across criminal justice agencies, as evidenced, for example, by unfair use of stop and search powers. Unequal treatment by institutions is certainly a deterrent to some people from BAME communities when making career choices.

Government policy, as it translates locally also plays its part to deter BAME individuals from applying to be police officers. The PREVENT agenda (part of governments attempts to address the 'threat of terrorism') led to the police and other agencies taking more time to work with the 'muslim community'. To engage with communities only because of the 'threat' of terrorism is a flawed engagement model and not conducive to building trust and confidence.

I remember once meeting Mr Neville Lawrence (the father of Stephen Lawrence) when I was leader of the local race equality council. I  was facing a sea of indifference & active resistance in Suffolk when bringing concerns from BAME communities  to the attention of institutions. I spoke with him about my aspirations that one day Britain would no longer need a race equality movement. He advised me with no bitterness that there would always be such a need. I believe him.

Today there was talk of the need for political will to effect change along with changes in the law. David Hanson Shadow Policing Minister spoke about the loss of current Government leadership on the issue of race and policing. The 2009 National Black Police Association report (Crichlow) 10 years on from the murder of Stephen Lawrence identifies the continuing barriers facing BAME officers and staff.  

In these times of austerity we need the courage to radically rethink policing services. If we can fundamentally shift attitudes towards entrenched racial inequalities, we could start to make the changes needed. I was told during my Police & Crime Commissioner campaign that because of the cuts Suffolk Police '.. are replacing leadership with procedure' Procedure does not allow for innovation, empowerment and change.

Suffolk's Police and Crime Plan (PCP)currently up for consultation, refers to the need for increased numbers of BAME officers. It makes no reference however to this being important across all the ranks and is prefaced with bland words 'where possible' - these words are negative.

The plan  (PCP) is supported by a Performance Assessment Framework which is supposed to identify how the Police and Crime Commissioner will measure performance against the Police and Crime Plan. This framework makes no reference to measurement of inequalities of any kind, let alone recruitment and promotion of BAME officers.

There are some inspirational individuals pressing for change within the service. Sadly their impact either stops when they move on, or they have insufficient power to infuence & deliver lasting change.

So that is it and in reality how it has always been. The achievement of race equality in policing reduced to just a few words in a glossy document. This combined with leaders and policy makers who seem bereft of any strategy or operational plan to make it a reality.

Individuals, organisations, communities are there with the answers. Leaders, policy makers and practioners need the humility to listen and then act on what they are hearing.

Should we ask more of our Police and Crime Commissioner on this issue. I think so - do you?

1 comment:

  1. I was interested to hear you led a Race Equality Council. I have approached Devon REC on several occasions and was severely disappointed - I know they don't have much money, power or clout - but can you shed light on why they regard institutional racism as not really worth pursuing? Did staff at your REC need training in that area or were you able to take on racist organisations when asked?