Bringing More Expertise

I watched TopGear on the iPlayer last night.

Jeremy Clarkson
Richard Hammond
James May

All white.

I listened to two programmes on BBC Radio 5 Live yesterday that between them had three presenters.. all white.

Is there a problem within the BBC in getting ethnic minority people into high profile positions? The BBC is paid for by every tax and licence payer in the country no matter what their background. Should the top presenters on the BBC be representative of the diverse nature of the public in this country? Should every organisation or business (where staff numbers allow a percentage to be achieved) have a workforce that is representative of the make up of society?

The Chief Constable of GMP and ACPO lead on workforce development, Peter Fahy, announced yesterday that there are problems in getting ethnic minority officers to the most Snr ranks in policing. He is advocating a change in the law to allow for positive discrimination. He says the promotion process is too slow and that the culture in policing where everyone starts at the bottom is taking too long for officers to get to the higher ranks. Without actually saying it outright he fully endorsed today the plan to bring people into the service at Insp and Supt level.

The Census information from 2011 shows that 86% of the country described themselves as white. I’ve not broken this down further but if 14% of the population are minority groups then they should have an equivalent representation in policing. A phrase being bandied around with increasing frequency at the moment is “the public are the police and the police are the public.”We police by consent and as such it’s important that the demographic of the workforce in the police service matches society as a whole. An article in the Guardian gives a breakdown of percentages by rank. It doesn’t give us an overall figure but it shows that we still have some way to go.

When I joined the service there were many black officers, less from asian background and hardly any at all with oriental roots. The black officers where I worked got a hard time. Not from their colleagues but from other members of the black community who felt they had betrayed their colour by joining the “Babylon”. Attitudes change but I’ll bet that some officers still face this abuse. Police forces have made big steps to increase numbers of officers from minority backgrounds but Peter Fahy said he was embarrassed by the lack of progress. On BBC 5 Live, Irene Curtis (President elect of Police Supers Association) said that significant progress had been made at junior ranks but went on to say that recruitment freezes and reductions were impacting on this. Mr Fahy looked to a more instant fix whilst Mrs Curtis suggested that identifying potential senior officers at an early stage and supporting them through the process was key. This is essentially building on the HPDS and mentoring schemes currently in place.

Mr Fahy said that we aren’t getting it right, we need more ethnic minorities at higher ranks and we need them now. Bringing in those people at Supt level will resolve this problem but went on to intimate that the numbers proposed by the Home Office will be insufficient. Yet whilst saying this the GMP Federation have written to him saying that his force is top heavy with Supt ranks.

Mr Fahy, by asking for a change in the law, is looking for a quick fix. Quick fixes are normally a short term gain but a long term loss.

Policing in this country needs to be reflective of the society it protects. The fact that there are insufficient Snr officers from ethnic minorities is because ultimately there are too few officers joining as PC’s from ethnic minority backgrounds. If he got his way, Mr Fahy would make the transition look like it’s working by bringing more ethnic minority officers in by direct entry. What it doesn’t do is tackle the issue of why there is still reluctance from this section of the community to get involved in policing at the ground level. A secondary issue may well be retention. How well do we perform at retaining such recruits? If they leave after a few years then serious research needs to be conducted to establish why.

Rome wasn’t built in a day. We have maybe progressed too slowly so far but breaking into a sprint now is not a solution. It takes time to gain policing experience and that should be from the bottom up. Yes it takes time but if we tackle the shortfall and get minority groups into the service we will be laying strong foundations for the future. By doing so we will B ring M ore E xpertise into policing for the benefit of all.

We cannot force the change. This is just painting over the cracks. We have to understand why ethnic minorities are disinclined to join the service and then take action to correct it. This takes time and trying to fast track a solution is not going to achieve that.


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