News story

Equality is vital for policing

This news article was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

The police enforce the law. That power brings great responsibility. The British way is for that power to be exercised through policing by consent. Policing by consent is even more important in the context of Britain’s diverse society.

August’s riots underlined the importance of building and keeping trust in policing.  During the riots, we saw how much communities rely on the police.  As people came together to help in the clear up, we saw that active consent and public participation help the police restore and then maintain law and order. To fight crime successfully, the law needs to be applied even-handedly and with real understanding of the needs of all our communities.  Equality - always important - is particularly vital for policing.

Big changes

Over the last decade police forces have made big changes for the better.  Progress has been made with more women and more members of ethnic minorities becoming police officers.  We have a strong legal framework that supports equality.  Links with communities are better, with neighbourhood policing playing a big part.

But there is a long way to go.  Police forces must provide services which meet the needs of all communities.  How forces work internally must support that.  All officers and staff need to have the opportunity to develop and make progress.  We must not pause on the journey - we need to step up a gear and go further with new thinking and new approaches.

Fighting hate crime is a good example of where huge progress has been made, but there is more to do - particularly in relation to people with disabilities.  Hate crime has an especially severe effect on the individual, but the fear it brings easily spreads to affect whole communities.  And the more a force knows about the needs of its communities, the better it will be able to fight these crimes.

Numbers of female and ethnic police up

While numbers of female and ethnic minority police officers have increased, there is further to go if police forces are to reflect - and fully understand - the communities they serve.  The challenge is particularly acute at the senior ranks in the service.  Around 220 chief officers form the upper leadership of our police forces.  Only 38 of them are women, and only three are from ethnic minorities.  The top leadership of policing looks very different from the general public.

Police staff roles, including at chief officer rank, are already open to new entrants from outside the service and many forces benefit from the fresh perspectives they bring.  But currently, the only way to become a police officer is to join as a constable.  Only one career path for police officer positions means that range of perspectives is limited.  The female and ethnic minority officers who have joined over the last decade, in increasing numbers, will not be in contention for chief officer posts until the 2020s.

In our senior police officer roles, we need individuals with the operational skills and experience to take high risk decisions and command police and public confidence.  But if an outside candidate can offer something different, we should consider new ways of building the operational skills they need, including more effective fast-tracking of talent.

Tom Winsor review

Tom Windsor is looking at the potential for entry at different ranks in his independent review of police terms and conditions.  There is a range of views about these issues in the service.  But it is time to have a sensible debate.

Promoting equality and diversity in policing cannot be addressed by box-ticking.  It requires a cultural change where the right values are embedded in the leadership actions of forces. 

These are not marginal issues for policing.  They are central to ensuring that forces are equipped to fight crime effectively in today’s society.  We need police forces to be open to all and attractive to the best.

By Nick Herbert, Minister for policing and Chief Constable Stephen Otter, ACPO race and diversity lead.

This article appeared in the Times newspaper on 12 September 2011