Diversity in the police was again in the news recently following comments by Irene Curtis, the new President of the Police Superintendents’ Association. Among the issues she raised was the lack of ethnic diversity in the police service, particularly in senior ranks. With the twentieth anniversary of Stephen Lawrence’s murder coming up later this month, this issue will come under the spotlight in the coming weeks.
So what do the facts say? Home Office figures show that 5% of police officers are from an ethnic minority. This proportion has increased steadily from 2% in 1999, when following the publication of the report of the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry there was a drive to increase the number of ethnic minority police officers. In addition, 7.5% of police staff, and 10% of PCSOs, are from an ethnic minority. This compares favourably to the fire service (3.3% of fire-fighters are from ethnic minorities) and is not too dissimilar to the teaching profession (6.4% of teachers are from ethnic minorities), to give just two examples. But it falls way short of other criminal justice agencies, such as the probation service and the Crown Prosecution Service, where 14% and 15% of staff respectively are from ethnic minorities, reflecting the proportion nationally (which is 14%).
Progression up the ranks is also very slow. Only 2.8% of ACPO officers, 3.2% of chief superintendents and 3.9% of superintendents are from an ethnic minority, despite steps taken by the College of Policing (among others) to support the promotion of officers from under-represented groups. This is partly a legacy of past low levels of diversity and the time it takes to get to a senior position and these figures do represent a considerable improvement compared with ten years ago, when 1.4% of ACPO officers and 1.7% of superintendents were from ethnic minorities. It also compares favourably with the UK armed forces, where 7.1% of personnel are from an ethnic minority but only 2.4% are officers. However, the police service and government should be very worried by the fact that there were no ethnic minority officers on this year’s Strategic Command Course. Career progression for ethnic minority officers clearly remains a serious problem.
While this disparity is easy to identify, it is much harder to address. Greater Manchester Chief Constable Sir Peter Fahy has suggested that police forces should be made to positively discriminate in favour of ethnic minority officers in order to increase their diversity. He believes that the operational need for a more diverse police service, in the face of an increasingly diverse society, makes this radical step necessary. However positive discrimination would require a change in the law and that seems unlikely. Indeed policing minister Damien Green has said that the police must take ownership of these issues.
In the absence of radical measures, progress is likely to be slow. Progression to senior ranks in the police takes time and the current spending cuts mean that recruitment in many forces has stalled. But that does not mean that the issue should be ignored. The police have done much to address this issue in the recent past, as the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s 2009 report noted, but there are concerns that it is no longer the priority that it once was. Yet there is a strong operational case for a police service that better reflects the population as a whole, and the police must ensure that they do everything possible to recruit and retain the diverse workforce that it needs to operate effectively in modern society.