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How do we recruit more Black, Asian and Minority ethnic Police officers?

Mark Blake

I had the pleasure of attending a community based conference in the great city of Liverpool last week at the Al Ghazali Centre. The Al Ghazali Centre is a community centre based in Liverpool which was established in the early 1990’s by the local Yemeni community and serves a mixed multicultural population.

The conference brought together members from the local communities and representatives from Merseyside Police to discuss ethnic minority recruitment into the Police.

With the Home Secretary’s consultation on Stop and Search powers recently coming to an end and following the HMIC critical report into the same issue, the challenges of policing, race equality and how representative the Police are has shifted back up the agenda. This issue has been a major recommendation from reports on policing since Scarman in 1981. Following the McPherson Report in 1999 into the racist murder of Stephen Lawrence a national target of 7% was set for the Police; they reached around 4% in 2009 and the targets were abandoned.

Some senior officers suggesting positive action should be taken to address the problem. Personally I don’t think enough has been done to truly engage ethnic minority communities within the available powers the Police have. I am also of the view that recruitment is indelibly linked to trust and confidence. In my opinion this is undermined when issues such as Stop and Search and deaths in Police custody impact heaviest on BAME communities.

The keynote address at the conference was given by Jane Kennedy, the Police and Crime Commissioner for Merseyside. Kennedy gave an overview of the issue, highlighting the need to increase the numbers of ethnic minority officers and the Forces’ commitment to do so, the inevitable backdrop of cuts to services, but most interestingly for me she spoke of her experience in Northern Ireland as a Minister in the last Labour Government and the reform of the RUC into the Police Service of Northern Ireland. Taking a Police Force that was dominated by officers from one community and integrating them into one that had representation from the Catholic community and that had shifted its culture and representation to fit the post-Peace Settlement in Northern Ireland.

Here quite clearly is a working example that the authorities and the community can learn from. The use of positive discrimination in the reform process in Northern Ireland providing an interesting model, maybe not to copy exactly but providing lessons to contemplate. Certainly Jane Kennedy demonstrated an understanding of how deep rooted tensions between the Police and sections of the community can be a huge barrier and sometimes a threat in themselves to community safety.

Some of the most powerful messages from the conference were the testimonies of black officers who spoke about their experiences and tackling racism in the force and their determination to make it better for the new BAME recruitments coming in. For me the experience of BAME officers has to be utilised to greater effect in the recruitment drives of the Police when engaging with prospective candidates from BAME communities. This is a narrative that will play well with communities who have had bad experiences with the Police. But we must also ensure that there is bottom engagement with communities and the Police on the most challenging issues such as Stop and Search and deaths in custody. This requires leadership not only in the Police but also from our politicians. Hopefully the great city of Liverpool will give us positive examples on all fronts.

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