You can’t police effectively without the cooperation of the community. It’s a lesson learnt from policing in Northern Ireland where an overwhelmingly Protestant force did not have the trust or the confidence of the Catholic community. It’s a lesson realised by the Met who are attempting to police a London population made up of 55% of people from ethnic minority communities with a force that comprises of only 10 % of officers from ethnic communities. But it’s not just a problem in London police forces across the country in all our major cities and urban areas face the same challenge. Police forces are not representative of the communities they serve, it’s not just an issue of race it includes faith, sexuality and to a lesser extent gender. Traditionally conservative Chief constables are calling for radical solutions including positive discrimination and quotas but will simple quick fixes work? Will they end up alienating the existing workforce, ostracizing officers within their own communities and frustrating newly recruited officers who find the culture hasn’t changed?
Police chiefs are concerned that an overtly white force is making it harder to police urban areas. They want to significantly increase the number of black officers but fear the traditional recruitment and selection process and the law which prohibits them from advertising for black recruits means they will fail in their efforts. Senior police officers have lobbed the government to change the law to allow positive discrimination pointing out that in Northern Ireland this was very effective in recruiting Catholics to an overwhelmingly Protestant police force. Would positive discrimination lead to a more reprehensive police force in inner city areas? Would a more ethnically balanced police force be more effective at tackling crime in multi racial and multi faith communities? Would local communities have more confidence in these beat officers? Would their cultural knowledge and language skills be valued by colleagues? Or would they be seen as traitors and collaborators distrusted by their own communities and ostracised and resented by colleagues?
A career in the modern police force which encourages graduates and offers fast track promotion to those who show potential and ability should be equally attractive to all sections of the community. A force which in addition goes out of its way to welcome black and Muslim officers and values the cultural knowledge, community contacts and insights they bring would attract applicants from ethnic minority communities. However if the thinking is simply that getting a black officer to do stop and search on local black youths is going to be less provocative than using white officers or that recruiting Muslim offices is a way of getting intelligence on Muslim communities and if these recruits find their promotion blocked by middle ranking officers who think black officers are only good for working with ethnic minority communities and resent their progress then black officers will leave the force as quickly as the entered it. In such circumstances positive discrimination could be counterproductive alienating both local communities and existing officers. Better to recruit to police the whole community, better to tackle the internal barriers to promotion, better that all officers seek to gain the confidence of all sections of the community and better to win a reputation as an equal opportunities employer.
Blair McPherson author of An Elephant in the Room about introducing equal opportunities into large public sector organisations published by Russell House www.blairmcpherson.co.uk