The police are the public and the public are the police...said Sir Robert Peel 1829.
In other words, we police "by consent", and our legitimacy and ability to do so is built on achieving public consensus for what we do and to hold us accountable for how we do it.
In the last of our three features, Acting Chief Constable John Long discusses the importance of inclusivity and diversity in policing with Chief Inspector Norman Pascal, the most senior ranking black officer in Avon and Somerset Police who is spearheading work to create a more representative workforce in Avon and Somerset over the next five years.
Q1. Is Robert Peel's statement still as valid today when we look at the questions of a representative workforce and diversity in policing?
JL: If we take a force area like Avon and Somerset and look at the demographics of the people we serve we know we don’t look anywhere near representative and the statistics bear that out. I don't think that there's a force in the country that’s representative by a long shot.
NP: When you take a hard look at the statistics and think about it the picture starts to look quite disturbing. We’ve been trying to push better representation since I started almost 30 years ago. I look at it now and there have been considerable changes, especially in our language and behaviour towards members of staff from underrepresented groups - like women, black and minority ethnic (BME) or lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) communities.
There are few organisations in the private or public sector doing as much as we are to educate our staff about the importance of diversity. But we’ve still been missing something. Our numbers show we aren’t a representative workforce and we’ve a long way to go to get there.
Q2. How has the force changed over the last 30 years and what progress have we made as an organisation?
JL: You could say that the progress we've made with the recruitment, retention and development of women as an underrepresented group has been notable. It’s been a real success story.
Technically, success for a representative workforce of women would be 50% and we’re somewhere in the region of 30%.
Some may still feel there are significant barriers but we also see women in very senior positions now and more women in senior ranks than many other forces. There aren't many women chief constables around the country which I would like to see change.
But it shows that women have joined and achieved a level of authority that was less obvious when Norman and I joined three decades ago.
I’ve always been aware of the lack of achievement in other areas like BME and LGBT recruitment and retention; so despite our relative success in recruiting and promoting women I think if you look at the entire diversity of the workforce we’ve been less successful.
Too often we say that these things take time because it requires cultural change etc but what we’ve tried to do so far simply hasn't had the impact we had hoped.
"So we need to understand more clearly what’s preventing people coming into the organisation."
That’s exactly why we asked Norman Pascal to do this critical piece of work.
NP: When you look back and consider the question of women in the workforce, what we didn't have before but we’ve since developed, is a critical mass within the organisation. It’s quite incredible what we’ve achieved when you look at the numbers of women in the force and in senior ranks now. If we could bottle that and do the same for other under-represented groups we'd be well on our way.
But we should remember that we’ve come on light years since I joined 30 years ago in terms of basic things like the language we use. Racist, sexist and homophobic language wouldn't be accepted or tolerated now in the way it was years ago.
I think we definitely have a better understanding of diversity and we’ve invested in that as a police service with the formation and support of the Black Police Association, the Disabled Police Association and the LGBT Police Association.
Q3. How important is it to society and the challenges we face in modern day policing to push forward a better understanding of diversity in policing by consent?
NP: Now is the time. It’s been pushed right up the national agenda by the College of Policing and the National Police Chiefs Council (NPCC). At a time where resources are stretched more than ever and the credibility and integrity of the police service is being called into question and held to account, it’s critical to the future of policing that we create a representative workforce. I hope the piece of work I’ve been tasked with will make a much needed difference.
JL: I recently talked about how I would like to think we can be a modern, determined and compassionate police force. I think it’s essential to realise that we can’t be a modern workforce unless we’re representative of the communities we police.
The profile of our communities changes more quickly on the basis of ethnicity than on gender or sexual orientation. So while we have success stories to tell about women in the workforce, if we look at the demographics of Bristol it’s a city that has changed massively in the last 30 years and our workforce hasn’t really reflected that.
Q4. What’s the challenge, how do we move forward and what can we all do to be part of it?
NP: Since I’ve been in post the one thing that keeps coming up is that it's all about personal relationships. Whenever I sit down with new recruits, whatever their background, I rarely come across anyone who has no connections to the police service or no previous knowledge of what we do and how we work.
People have a family member or a friend who has worked in the police service, so they’re familiar with police culture. I really feel it's about appealing to that sense of belonging and knowing that actually you can fit in. I think the mistake we’ve made in the past is to think we can put out an advert and assume people will automatically hear and understand what our culture is about.
Unfortunately a lot of people have a false picture based on the past. I don't think it’s impossible to make those personal connections with people from underrepresented communities, but I do think we’ve previously failed to get the right message out in the right way and that’s been an inhibitor in creating a more representative workforce.
"There are a wealth of different opportunities in this organisation"
but I think a lot of people from underrepresented communities look and think ‘I could never be a police officer, that's not for me’.
But you don’t just have to be a police officer to work here; we have call takers, carpenters, mechanics and all sorts of roles. Communicating that message and understanding that there are a myriad of opportunities for all kinds of people in this organisation is part of the challenge.
We need to sell ourselves better, and we have work to do in inner city communities - which doesn't just include BME communities, women and LGBT groups - but also disaffected young white men. We need to create that critical mass of people from other underrepresented groups in the same way we have done for women.
It's easy to get caught up in statistics but once that critical mass becomes the norm rather than a singled-out group they move into positions of seniority and pull other people up with them - just as women have done in our organisation. So the challenge is how we develop those personal connections to help people see the opportunities and successes and how our organisation really is - not how they perceive it to be.
JL: I think we all have to think about that when we come into work every day.
"We all have an interest and an investment in turning the organisation into something more representative and different."
A single act of kindness, professionalism or help could get a lot of people thinking differently about whether they see the police as an employer of choice.
And it's not about thinking with every time we go out we have to recruit someone. It's about being the epitome of the professional we want other people to see.