The publication of the MacPherson Report in 1999 after the infamous murder of Stephen Lawrence found that institutionalized racism within the police force ultimately prevented ethnic minorities from signing up. This should have been the launchpad for addressing such issues of racism, yet here we are almost twenty years later discussing the same issues and lamenting the same reasons for it.
In March 2017, Police Workforce Diversity Data reported the highest level of BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) officers in history. Progress, right?
Well, not exactly. These headline figures may suggest a step in the right direction, but, nationally, diversity within the police force is still a significant issue that urgently needs addressing.
In 2016, a Freedom of Information Request found that 40 out of the 45 territorial police forces appoint fewer BAME officers than is proportionate to the community they serve. Indeed, the highest proportion of BAME officers was found in the Metropolitan Police Force, with 13% of officers identifying as such. Yet, the proportion of Black and Minority Ethnic people in the London area is 40%, indicating a vast disparity between the police admissions and the population. Evidently, there is a huge racial divide amongst those who join the police force. It is no wonder that minority populations feel isolated from the institutions that are supposed to protect them. Whilst analysing the statistics and writing a report identifies that there is a problem, clearly more research needs to be done to solve the issue.
Many causes have been cited for the lack of diversity, such as a stereotypically negative view of the police, low social income and a lack of ethnic minority role models within the force. Fundamentally, what this boils down to is a lack of enthusiasm on all levels to force the changes that are needed.
Of course, change doesn’t appear overnight, but it is crucial that more minorities are encouraged to join the police and serve their communities. This will only happen if an effort is made on both sides. Police need to delve into their communities, no matter what ethnicity is dominant, and present the force as a helping hand, not an enemy to be feared. It is only through this exchange that more minorities will choose a police career and the force will gain a cultural understanding to prevent institutionalised racism.
From the local bobby on the beat to the highest rank of commissioner, a lack of racial diversity is a substantial problem. Most significantly, there is a need to lead by example, and for this to happen, change needs to come from above. However, the number of BAME promotions from 2016/17 actually decreased by 0.5% from the previous year. This represents a step completely in the wrong direction. In an era where mistrust in authority is at an all-time high amongst minorities, and the chances of a black man being arrested is up to 10 times as likely as his white counterpart in some areas, it will take pioneers who can act as true role models to their communities to create equality in the force and encourage true representation. Until this happens, a cloud of racism will continue to loom and it’s only a matter of time before another Stephen Lawrence case occurs.