Why police forces must reflect the communities they serve

I recently read an article on women’s experiences in the police force. Their representation now stands at 28% and it was fascinating to learn about some of the progress that has been made for women in the police services. However, the same cannot be said for BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) police officers – and this must change to reflect the UK’s increasingly diverse population

Just 5.5% of the police force in England and Wales comes from a BAME background, compared to 14.1% BAME representation in the resident population, and only 1,711 of BAME officers are women. In London, the gap is even wider – 40.2% of the population are BAME yet only 11.7% of the Metropolitan Police. Our Race at the Top report also found that just 2.9% of officers with a rank of assistant chief and 2.7% of chief superintendents are from a BAME background. The diversity of the Judiciary also has significant challenges; for example there are only three BAME High Court judges out of 106 in post

Our ‘Aspiration and Frustration’ research found that 39% of BAME people were ‘turned off’ from a career in the police force, with many respondents saying they perceived it as unwelcoming and were concerned about their families’ views. They also saw little opportunity to progress – sadly unsurprising given the low numbers of BAME people at senior levels.

All this suggests our police forces do not mirror the communities they police. This is particularly significant as one in three people in the UK is projected to come from a BAME background by 2050. I also think it is important that we remain aware that a disproportionate percentage of the prison population is black -10% compared to their 2.8% representation in the UK population – which is fact higher than the USA. So how can police forces increase BAME representation?

Our Gender and Race Benchmark shows that the percentage of BAME candidates progressing through the recruitment process for uniformed services – including the police - remains consistent at each stage. However, just 5% of applicants to uniformed services roles are from a BAME background. So police forces must use a wider range of recruitment channels to reach a more diverse candidate pool and engage early with young BAME people. They should also look to other forces who are leading in this area, such as Warwickshire Police and West Mercia Police who were shortlisted for our 2015 Recruiting Diverse Talent Award.

Police forces must also ensure that the BAME workforce have an equal chance to progress. Our Benchmark shows BAME employees are less likely to be rated as ‘high potential’ or selected for leadership training, restricting their opportunities to move up the ranks. ‘Equality-proofed’ appraisal and performance processes, including monitoring which ethnic groups attend leadership training, involving staff from all ethnic backgrounds in designing performance criteria and being part of selection processes and mandatory unconscious bias training to staff involved in appraisals are also actions employers should take.

This month marks 50 years since the Race Relations Act, but progress on fair BAME representation in many sectors – including the police force – has been frustratingly slow. With a rapidly changing UK population, it’s vital that police forces across England and Wales and the judiciary act now to ensure they fully reflect the communities that they serve. And of course action to ensure police forces better reflect the communities they serve should be a manifesto commitment of all the leading political parties.