Last summer my son was the victim of a racist incident. Not an attack or anything violent. But racist behaviour by a public official.
Britain has come a long way on race, and we are noticeably less racist than we were a generation ago, but over the last few years things have started going backwards. The way that the press talk about young Asian men is the same stigmatising language that we used to hear about young Black men in the pre-Stephen Lawrence era.
We reported the incident to Police Scotland, who were happy to record it administratively as a “hate incident” but reluctant to investigate it or take any action. One of the most striking things about the whole process was the inability of any of the people who we encountered to emphasise in any way with my son, or to trying and understand the incident from his perspective. We did ask our local Labour MP to take up the case, but 6 months later she has done nothing.
While we were trying to persuade Police Scotland to take the case seriously Dame Elish Angiolini published her report into complaints handling within the force. Her report revealed a widespread culture of discrimination and the huge problems that Black and Asian Officers faced in rising to senior positions. Twenty years after the Lord Macpherson report this is very disappointing.
Of the nearly 1300 senior Police Officers in Scotland (Inspector or higher) only 13 were non-white, and non of them had ever reached the highest ranks.
This begged the question – are things any better in England and Wales?
Changes in UK Police Numbers
Generally Police Forces are becoming more diverse. In 2007 96.9% of Police were white, 1% didn’t reveal their ethnicity and just over 2% were from an Ethnic Minority. In 2017 95.2% of police were White, 2% didn’t reveal their ethnicity and just under 3% were from an Ethnic Minority. Police forces are still a lot whiter than the communities they serve, but they are making progress. Ethnic Minorities, however, are still more likely to be civilian staff or PCSOs than serving Officers, and more likely to be in the lowest ranks than the highest. For comparison 86% of people in England and Wales were White and 14% were from other ethnic groups, so a long way to go before the Police reflect broader society.
While overall the Police have become more diverse this isn’t true at the highest levels – as you go up the grades Police Forces get whiter. There are fewer non-white Officers at Chief Officer level now than there were in 2007 both in absolute numbers and as a percentage. There has never been a non-white Chief Constable in the UK to date.
To break that down by force I asked all Police Forces in the UK to provide data on the minority composition of Officers from 2010 to 2020
Of the 43 Forces in the UK 32 replies to my FOIA request. 11 didn’t reply. Of the 32 who replied 4 initially refused to disclose their data, however 2 of them did change their mind when I reminded them of their statutory duty – Mersey and Cumbria were the holdouts.
The Metropolitan Police were one of the ones who didn’t reply. While they are the largest force in the country they are so different to all of the others it is easier to treat them in isolation. The Met is the most diverse force in the country, and while nationally Police Officers are 95.2% white the Met is 86.7% – although this is still an awful lot whiter than the communities they serve. More than half of all Ethnic Minority officers work in the Met. The most senior Ethnic Minority Police Officer in the UK is Neil Basu Assistant Commissioner, and Head of Counter Terrorism Command.
The Met were also singled out as institutionally racist and have spent a long time trying to address this problem, so it is disappointing that they didn’t respond.
Of the other forces the 32 replies revealed the following:
- In the last 10 years hardly any progress has been made in increasing the numbers of senior Officers from Ethnic Minorities. Across the 32 forces surveyed total representation had only increased by 29 over 10 years
- Of those 29 extra Officers 15 of them were in Greater Manchester Police. The other 31 forces had 14 extra Ethnic Minority senior Officers between them
- Four forces, including Durham, had no Ethnic Minority senior Officers – in 2010 every force had at least one
- There have been huge cuts in policing over the last 10 years. In 2010 there were 146,442 FTE Police Officers in the UK. 9 years of cuts left forces with only 122,405 in 2019. This has risen to 129,110 as the Government starts to reverse it’s own cuts
- These cuts haven’t fallen evenly. Forces in the South of England have lost fewer Officers, forces in the North have lost lots more. Durham has lost 1/3rd of its Officers over a decade
- The forces who replied had lost 10% of their senior Officers, however this is again distorted by GMP who had increased their staffing by 26%. Whatever Andy Burnham is doing it is having a big impact
Based on this information the must striking thing is the cuts to Police numbers since 2010; the biggest fall in history. It is hard not to draw the conclusion these huge cuts to Police numbers has made it harder for Ethnic Minority Officers to reach the highest ranks. It is striking that the first female Chief Constable was appointed over 25 years ago, but a non-White Chief Constable seems a very long way off.
Why does it matter?
Firstly because in the UK we have policing by consent, based on the principles set out by Sir Robert Peel, when he established the first British Police Force.
This is from Peel’s principles:
To maintain at all times a relationship with the public that gives reality to the historic tradition that the police are the public and that the public are the police, the police being only members of the public who are paid to give full-time attention to duties which are incumbent on every citizen in the interests of community welfare and existence.
To recognize always that the power of the police to fulfill their functions and duties is dependent on public approval of their existence, actions and behavior, and on their ability to secure and maintain public respect
To recognize always that to secure and maintain the respect and approval of the public means also the securing of the willing cooperation of the public in the task of securing observance of laws.
If the public are the Police then they should reflect the society that they give full time attention to. The public are not the Police if only one section of the public are reflected in the police forces that serve them. The Police earn public support by respecting community principles. Winning public approval requires hard work to build reputation: enforcing the laws impartially, hiring officers who represent and understand the community, and using force only as a last resort.
And secondly, because leadership and role models matter.
As some of you will know a pupil at my sons school was recently convicted for white nationalist terror offences – the youngest person ever to be convicted as a terrorist in the UK.
There were plenty of signs in advance of this that there were students who were becoming radicalised and adopting racist identities politically. The school itself has an all White leadership team, and has only recently appointed its first non-white teacher – who teaches Mandarin part time. The Police Force has no non-white senior Officers, and the Council senior leadership team is also all white.
The debate about what is and isn’t racism in the UK has become more and more muddied over the last few years. We hear of examples of people in public office being afraid to act in case they are labelled racist, but in my experience the opposite is more common – people are reluctant to tackle racism because they lack the experience or confidence. They let things go on that they should challenge, or leave people from Ethnic Minorities to fend for themselves.
If there had been people in positions of leadership who had experience of racism they should have been able to spot problems developing sooner, and have been more confident in tackling it.
There is a consistent effort to denigrate issues like this as part of “the woke agenda”, which does a massive disservice not just to people from Ethnic Minorities, but to the whole community. Liz Truss, the Equalities Minister, recently gave a speech in which she announced the Government will no longer give priority to tackling issues of discrimination based on race and gender. The speech was widely mocked and then deleted from the Government’s website.
This is a massive mistake. Pretending that these issues will fade away if we stop talking about them is daft.
Sadly we will probably see another Stephen Lawrence style murder in the next few years. Maybe that is what it will take for people to realise that diversity is a fact of modern society not a fad.
The forces who replied:
|Heddlu Gwent Police|
|Avon and somerset|
|City of London|