"It is so important to have officers representing the community. It is an operational necessity"Despite a government scheme to boost recruitment and forces being equipped to attract officers from under-represented backgrounds, polices forces in England and Wales are failing to represent the communities they serve.
By: George Willoughby
Andy George, President of the National Black Police Association, believes that an opportunity has been missed to address the under-representation of ethnic minorities in the force.
Speaking to the Eastern Eye, he said: "Every Black or Asian officer you see is also a member of the community as well as being a police officer. They have grown up understanding what the community issues are."
It comes as national data and Freedom of Information (FOI) obtained by the Eastern Eye reveal a lack of non-white representation in the police. As of June 2021, not a single force in England and Wales has enough ethnic minority officers to represent the South Asian and Black communities they serve.
George added that he was "very concerned".
"Ethnic minority officers are a valuable resource that we have internally. We need to have more of those people from those backgrounds in key decision-making arrays, so that we can understand what emerging crime trends are, what community needs are, and put our resources and align our resources to meet those needs."
"We know there is more to do," said a spokesperson from the Home Office.
Representing the community
As of June 2021, every police force was below the percentage of Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) officers compared to the population of BAME residents in the area they serve.
This is based on monthly Home Office figures that break down each force by the ethnicity of their officers.
The force with the biggest difference was the Metropolitan Police. The area that the force represents has a BAME population of 40%. But non-white serving officers make up only 14% of the force excluding part-time officers and specials.
A spokesperson from the Metropolitan Police force said: "We want to make real progress as quickly as possible, which is why we are constantly striving across multiple fronts to work towards achieving this aspiration.
"Whilst progress has been made, if we are truly to reflect London in our workforce, we have much further to go," they added.
"We recognise that trust in the Met is still low in some communities, and one of the top priorities is to increase public confidence, particularly among Black, Asian and multiple ethnic heritage communities.
"A wide range of activities have already been carried out to build stronger relationships with all diverse communities and understand their concerns, and these continue at pace."
As of July 2021, the Metropolitan Police has slightly increased BAME representation. 5,223 officers are from under-represented communities which represent 16% of all officers.
About this chart: The data in this graph can be accessed from the Home Office. Additionally, the population estimates used were from the 2016 Police Appendix Tables. Figures for some forces might have changed since this article was published. Data is correct as of June 2021. The map compares ethnic minority representation in police forces with the areas they serve. All forces were below the required percentage of Black, Asian or Mixed Race officers. Figures are also only for full-time serving officers.
Another force struggling is Leicestershire Constabulary. Like the Met, the number of ethnic minority officers does not reflect the community it serves.
BAME residents make up 21% of the area yet, as of June 2021, just eight per cent of the full-term serving officers are from ethnic minority backgrounds.
A police spokesperson from Leicestershire Constabulary said: "It is undeniable that we need to be more representative within our force and reflect the communities that we serve.
"We are working hard to understand our workforce, creating an inclusive culture and environment where staff can develop.
"In the past, many ethnic minority communities have not seen the police as a career they want to go into. This may be due to a general distrust of policing or some of the negative experiences BAME staff have had."
Dal Babu is a former chief superintendent and founder of the Met's Muslim Association. Having a workforce that represents the community is something that he believes is vital for effective policing.
"The police have never actually represented the public," says Babu.
"When it comes to South Asian and Black people, we remain hugely under-represented. I do not think there is a lack of recruits either. So, we need to look at the procedures, how officers are treated, and what opportunities they get once they are in the organisation. There needs to be a big shakeup.
Is Operation Uplift working?
Back in September 2019, Boris Johnson announced a new government scheme to recruit 20,000 new police officers.
Labelled Operation Uplift, forces were set targets to bring in a certain number of recruits. Speaking at the time, Home Secretary Priti Patel said that "this is the people's priority, and it is exactly what the government is delivering."
The total number of police officers has increased since the announcement of the scheme. However, Freedom of Information requests show that police forces through the Uplift are not recruiting enough officers from minority backgrounds.
Speaking about the operation, a Home Office spokesperson said: "The Policing Minister wrote to all 43 police forces earlier this year, urging them to ensure that they seize the opportunity presented by the uplift to recruit officers from a wide range of backgrounds."
The forces getting it right
Eastern Eye sent freedom of information requests to all the police forces. Out of the 43 requests, 34 responded with full and accurate data.
The timeframe requested was from October 2019 to May 2021.
Presented with the chance to increase the diversity of serving officers some workforces have made significant improvements.
Using the demographics of the police forces areas, the required number of BAME recruits can be calculated. The figure shows how many BAME recruits are needed so that forces represent their communities.
West Yorkshire and Northumbria Police are comfortably reaching their diversity targets. These two forces have recruited the highest number of ethnic minority officers above the required level to match the non-white representation in their areas.
But, West Yorkshire Police are standing out. From October 2019 to May 2021, they have recruited a total of 726 officers. Out of those, 189 have been from BAME backgrounds. Officers from under-represented communities make up 26% of all recruitment.
Responding to the figures, West Yorkshire Police said: "Being representative of the communities we serve is a continued focus through recruitment and retention of our police officers and staff.
"A diverse workforce is vitally important as it will bring different thinking, backgrounds, experiences. Plus, different upbringings to help ensure we have the trust, confidence and understanding of our communities now and in the future."
Northumbria Police are another force having success. The 12% of recruits from BAME backgrounds is just over double the percentage of BAME residents.
A spokesperson from the force added: "We are extremely proud of the success of our ongoing recruitment campaign, which includes proactively encouraging people from under-represented groups to join the force."
There are now over 10,000 police officers from ethnic minority backgrounds. More emphasis is being placed on reaching underrepresented communities.
The College of Policing continues to provide guidance. Furthermore, the National Police Chiefs' Council (NPCC) published its first Diversity, Equality, and Inclusion strategy in October 2018.
Forces are also given a toolkit that includes practical steps to increase the recruitment of officers from BAME backgrounds.
Despite the recruitment campaigns and the guidance available, attracting recruits from ethnic minorities is still a problem in many police forces. The Uplift is not just about increasing the total number of officers.
A spokesperson from the Met said: "We are working hard to build trust and confidence to try and increase the numbers applying to improve representation. One example of our efforts is the success of our Outreach Recruitment Programme that covers all boroughs in the capital, reaching out to under-represented communities to forge relationships and offer information and support to encourage more Londoners to consider joining the Met."
A police spokesperson said: "There are several factors that make increasing our representation challenging. We are working hard to understand our workforce, creating an inclusive culture and environment where staff can develop. The positive action provisions in place have contributed to successful BAME applications increasing from 11% to 19%".
Only nine per cent of recruits by Thames Valley Police were from Asian, Black or mixed heritage. This is a problem the force has acknowledged.
"We are acutely aware of the gap in representation and are determinedly working hard to address this. We aspire to be a force that truly reflects the communities we serve and see our diversity as a strength.
"Barriers may exist to those from ethnic minorities from joining the police service, which is also reflected nationally and in other sectors of work."
National Police Chief's Council lead for diversity, equality and inclusion, Chief Constable Carl Foulkes, said, "The legitimacy and effectiveness of UK policing is built on the relationship between the police and the public.
"While we have made strong improvements, we know we have made slow progress in increasing diversity and we must now go further and rise to this complex challenge to achieve substantial and lasting change."
Evaluating the Uplift
The success of Operation Uplift varies across the police forces in England and Wales. Overall, while some forces currently lack representation from ethnic minority communities, many are making improvements.
Comparing the percentage of BAME officers recruited through the Uplift with the percentage of BAME officers in the workforce reveals some room for optimism.
This is especially relevant for forces such as the Metropolitan Police, City of London, and Leicestershire Constabulary.
These three forces are showing signs of improvement with their ethnic minority recruiting since 2019.
About this chart: The table shows the overall picture of police recruitment through Operation Uplift. Figures were obtained through Freedom of Information requests. Some forces are not in the table because they did not supply complete data or have not responded to the request. Furthermore, percentages have not been rounded for accuracy.
A police spokesperson from Leicestershire Constabulary said: "We have introduced an aspirational target that one in four applicants for posts in our force with be BAME and we are currently working towards this."
Most forces are improving but, there are still some who are struggling to increase ethnic minority representation. One of these forces is Bedfordshire.
Chief Constable Garry Forsyth said, "A targeted recruitment campaign transformed us from the third least representative to the third most representative police in the country.
"However, there is still much more work to do.
"We know there are longstanding trust and confidence issues in policing nationally among ethnic minority communities, while from a recruitment perspective we really struggle to recruit from Black communities in particular."
Operation Uplift has given the police a chance to rectify the shortage of under-representative communities in the force.
Several forces have taken positive steps. Andy George added that the scheme has been beneficial.
He said: "The Uplift team has been good at reaching out to the NBPA. They have been more open and engaged than they have in the past.
"This is about levelling the playing field and giving everyone a fair chance. There have been many positives from the Uplift. We need to take the lessons we have learnt forward."
What do other forces say?
Assistant Chief Constable Matt Nicholls, Hertfordshire Constabulary, said, "The reasons for under-representation are complex and reflected across many UK police forces. But the constabulary is working hard to increase representation. We want our workforce to represent the communities we serve and protect.
Eastern Eye asked the Metropolitan Police what they are doing to try to be representative of their communities. A spokesperson said, "Our most recent recruitment drive launched in July which sees diverse officers already flourishing in a variety of roles in the Met acting as ambassadors to share their career stories."
"We have also opened up new pathways to encourage more Londoners, particular those from under-represented communities, to consider applying, such as the new apprentice route in partnership with four London universities, which allows participants to study for a degree while getting a salary for practical on the job training."
South Yorkshire Police's director of resources, Jacqueline Bland said, "We are strongly committed to reflecting the communities in which we serve.
"In our latest recruitment period we saw an increase in applications from people within ethnic minority communities, which placed the force in the top performance quartile of all forces in England and Wales in terms of improving representation amongst new recruits.
"While we are really proud of this, we recognise the need to improve our representation and we will continually strive to do so."
The City of London Police also said, "Diversity and inclusion is something we take extremely seriously.
"We are proud to be an inclusive employer and we have recently revised our action plan to focus on further diversifying our workforce and being representative of London's population."
Featured image source: Danny Lines via Unsplash
Disclaimer: Parts of the final Eastern Eye version of this story will vary.
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✅ However, some police forces have taken advantage of the opportunity Operation Uplift has presented to them. In particular, West Yorkshire. 26% of new recruits between October 2019 and May 2021 were from BAME communities. pic.twitter.com/Hn9qbz3VQL— George Willoughby (@GWJournalism) September 7, 2021