Chief constables want change in law to boost ethnic minority officers through positive discrimination
Vikram Dodd, The Guardian, May 3
Ethnic minority police officers would be promoted and recruited ahead of white colleagues as a way of boosting the fight against terrorism, under radical plans being drawn up by Britain’s top police officers.
The Guardian has learned that the Association of Chief Police Officers is discussing with the Home Office proposals to introduce positive discrimination across the service in England and Wales.
The scheme would also see selected black, Asian and female officers offered entry into the police service not as constables, but in promoted posts, up to the rank of inspector.
The reforms would need new legislation as positive discrimination in favour of women and ethnic minorities is illegal as the law stands.
The scheme would mean decisions on selection and promotion not being made on merit alone, but also on race and gender. It would go far further than that produced by the Metropolitan police, which is limited to fastracking black recruits into training.
Acpo says the plan would help redress deficiencies in the police service’s knowledge and skills because the ranks are still too white and male.
Britain’s top officers say the fight against terrorism is being hampered because there are too few ethnic minority officers to make links with communities who may hold vital intelligence.
Peter Fahy, chief constable of Cheshire and spokesman for Acpo on race and diversity, said the scheme was not just about social justice, but helping the police to tackle terrorism and serious crime more effectively.
Mr Fahy said: “It is a matter of operational need. The lifeblood of policing is intelligence. The only way you can get intelligence and information from communities is if you have officers who have the confidence of those communities.”
He said the British fight against terrorism relied on local bobbies feeding intelligence up the chain to Special Branch and the intelligence services: “You need to have a relationship with your local community before they have the confidence to bring anything of concern to you. It’s about having officers from that background who can create good relationships in the first place as local beat officers.”
The Cheshire force led by Mr Fahy saw 10 officers resign after the BBC Secret Policeman programme exposed shocking levels of racism at a police training school. The Acpo plans were drawn up after the programme showed the limited progress the police had made in cracking down on racism in the ranks.
After the Macpherson report the government set every force the target of having the same proportion of officers from ethnic minority communities as the area they serve.
But Mr Fahy says those targets will be missed without sweeping reform: “We need to entertain some of the things we have ruled out in the past.”
Advertising campaigns have boosted the numbers of people who meet the standards to be trained as officers, but Mr Fahy says would-be recruits are still too white and too male: “We are largely attracting people from the same section of society as before.”
Acpo have put no specific proposals to ministers, but have raised the question of amending the law to allow positive discrimination. “The government would have to enact the necessary legislation,” Mr Fahy said.
Ray Powell, chairman of the National Black Police Association, opposed the plans: “We are not in favour of positive discrimination nationally. There may be a case for it in some Metropolitan Police boroughs where the demographics justify it.”
Iqbal Sacranie, general secretary of the Muslim Council of Britain, said: “The police have not really been successful at understanding the community and establishing and retaining trust so as to build confidence.”
Police chiefs stress candidates would have to meet a minimum standard of competence and do not believe the quality of policing would suffer. A Home Office spokesman said: “We are prepared to listen but no decisions have yet been taken.”
Glen Smyth, of the Met branch of the Police Federation, said: “Where you create artificial solutions you create problems. There are no quick fixes. This sounds to me like good intentions, and the road to hell is paved with good intentions.”