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Police force diversity is improving in the UK – but there’s a long way to go

Dr Daniel Silverstone - Dominique Walker

The tragic death of George Floyd while in the custody of officers from the Minneapolis police department in US highlights the differences between US and UK policing but a common issue is the under representation of black and minority ethnic (BAME) in their ranks. Dr Daniel Silverstone and Dominique Walker from Liverpool John Moores University discuss the progress of improving diversity in UK policing.

The death of George Floyd at the knees of officers from the Minneapolis police department and the anger that has cascaded from it reminds us of how important legitimate, representative and proportionate policing is for democracies. The death of Mark Duggan in the UK nearly ten years ago also sparked nationwide protests which turned into the largest riots the country had experienced in a generation.

When relations between the police and the African-American community are at a nadir – there is a temptation to conflate the judgement of some American police officers with their UK counterparts.

In such emotionally charged times – when relations between the police and the African-American community are at a nadir – there is a temptation to conflate the judgement of some American police officers with their UK counterparts. This risks exacerbating existing tensions between black communities and the police here. But the police force in the UK is very different.

In the US, police routinely shoot and kill over 1,000 Americans every year. African-Americans make up less than 14% of the population yet account for more than 23% of deaths. In the UK, the highest number of annual fatal shootings by police was six in 2016-17. For two years – in 2012-13 and 2013-14 – the figure was zero.


Perhaps more troubling than the differences are the similarities when it comes to under-representation of black people in their ranks. This has been a longstanding issue in the US and the UK does not fare much better. As of March 2019 just 7% of UK officers, or (8,329), identified as black and minority ethnic (BAME) – and that was the highest proportion since records began. Black officers in the UK make up only 1.2% of this figure (1,492 officers) – despite black people making up 3.3% of the population.

The ultimate aim of the UK’s new Police Education Qualifications Framework for training police officers and staff is for the force to be representative of the general population.

Representation alone cannot fix larger societal issues when it comes to racism. But when deployed appropriately, it can provide reassurance and support to communities of colour. As the UK’s only ever black chief constable, Michael Fuller outlined in his 2019 memoir, Kill the Black One First, that tensions between black communities and the police are longstanding. In his role as chief constable of Kent and as a senior officer with London’s Metropolitan Police Service, he was able to be an effective conduit between them.

The US has seen a recent surge in police numbers, and many states are now facing bankruptcy due to the impact of COVID-19. This means that the potential for change is limited. The UK is in a much better place here. In 2019, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced the intention to recruit 20,000 new officers.

The ultimate aim of the UK’s new Police Education Qualifications Framework for training police officers and staff is for the force to be representative of the general population. All new recruits will have three opportunities to enter the service: by attaining a general degree, a pre-joining policing degree or an apprenticeship. There are also “direct entry” routes into roles like detective and senior positions such as inspector and superintendent.

These aspirations ought to be good news for black people who want a career in the police as on average (in 2016), 8% of first-year undergraduates across the UK were black. The trend is even higher in London, which has the highest proportion of black students, making up 17% overall.

No high-ranking black officers

Yet while the UK force is diversifying at its junior levels, at a senior level there are still huge obstacles. For example, in the London Met – the largest force in the UK – there are no black officers at the highest ranks.

One of the Met’s most senior black female officers, Superintendent Robyn Williams, is currently on the sexual offender register after she was found guilty of possessing an indecent image which had been sent to her phone. The decision to prosecute her was labelled a “classic case of institutional racism” by the Black Police Association.

The events in the US show how quickly African-American communities can lose trust and faith in the ones who are supposed to “protect and serve”. UK police forces need to grasp this and speed up the scale at which they are recruiting black applicants

Meanwhile, the latest Home Office figures from 2019 show there is only one black chief officer in the whole country. The Met’s head of human resources, Clare Davis, has said “it would take over 100 years to be more representative of London” if the force continues at its current rate.

The events in the US show how quickly African-American communities can lose trust and faith in the ones who are supposed to “protect and serve”. UK police forces need to grasp this and speed up the scale at which they are recruiting black applicants. So far, anecdotal evidence in our university’s own police training scheme seems to show that the new framework is working, as more diverse applicants are coming through.

Ultimately, if black applicants progress to leadership positions, they might just make a difference. That is because leadership matters. Both President Obama and President Trump witnessed fatal police brutality during their tenure but only one tweeted “when the looting starts, the shooting starts” and experienced the severe consequences which followed.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The Conversation

About the authors

Dr Daniel Silverman is Director of the School of Justice Studies, Liverpool John Moores University. He worked full time as a principal lecturer in criminology at the Institute of Criminal Justice Studies at the University of Portsmouth,, before leaving to run the provision of criminology and the John Grieve Centre at London at Met University. In addition to this, he has worked in a part-time capacity at the universities of Kingston, Sussex, and Westminster. His main research interest is the study of organised crime and its policing. He has conducted several research projects for a diverse range of central and local government bodies. He has also published on other areas , such as ‘policing’ and ‘gangs. He has several completions as first supervisor ‘and is currently supervising PhD students researching the links between trafficking and organised crime.

Dominique Walker is a Lecturer in Police Studies, Liverpool John Moores University. She was a detective within Merseyside Police’s Protecting Vulnerable People Sigma Hate Crime Investigations Unit for 11 years She has also worked to challenge hate crime and promote equity and fairness in her community and with her family created The Anthony Walker Foundation (AWF). The charity was set up after the untimely death of her brother Anthony in July 2005. The AWF works to promote racial harmony through education, music and sport. In 2014, Dominique was awarded a Honorary Fellowship by Liverpool John Moores University for her commitment to celebrating diversity, community development and cohesion. Dominique is currently studying for her PhD in Sociology and Criminology at Liverpool University and is one of the founders of The Goddess Projects, a social enterprise designed to help Black women and Women of colour succeed in their lives.

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2 Responses to “Police force diversity is improving in the UK – but there’s a long way to go”

  1. Avatar AdrianB says:

    I’m not sure this article can be categorised as ‘analysis’, when the premises and data used are so selective. For example:
    – The premise that the death in question was in any way related to the issue of ‘BAME underrepresentation’ is undermined immediately by the overlooked, glaringly obvious fact that the four officers charged in relation to the apparent murder were the most diverse possible squad (if you are motivated to look only at the shallow paradigm of one’s skin colour); 50% were apparent ‘white’, 50% were ‘BAME’.
    – There is still no actual evidence the alleged murder had anything to do with race, beyond the (again, skin-deep) opinions/assumptions by some viewers of the viral video.
    – The ‘context’ set of the proportionality for the 1,000 Americans who ‘the police routinely shoot and kill’ (fascinating use of language) is against the proportionality of the general public population. This is entirely the wrong denominator to determine true proportionality, which is surprising given the authors’ professions are in research: It should be compared as a proportion of those who the police actually encounter to have a true understanding of ‘are the police systematically favouring some groups over others when encountering them’, which in turn might highlight whether there was any indications of systemic racism; if you were taking an unbiased approach. As is known, this tells a completely opposite story to the conventional narrative. Comparison against the whole population is as meaningless as saying a customer satisfaction survey would represent the views of non-customers.

    This is of course nothing to do with the noble ambition of UK policing to become representative of the public as a core Peelian principle (Public = Police). I believe however it is unhelpful to actually move forward the issue, when the problems are completely misidentified based on fundamentally flawed or biased analyses. By closing with personal, allbeit popular, comparisons of their views of Presidents (when both have not only presided over but also both strongly denounced rioting/looting when it occurred) kind of again highlights the biases, which can only ever hinder the search for truth and in turn providing a better policing service for all.

  2. benjamyn112 benjamyn112 says:

    We have long completed the calculations showing that ‘x’ percent of officers are from one group and ‘y’ percent from another, not representing the community nor the population as a whole. This is easy to measure but does not address the issue underlying the challenge. Using easy measurement as a proxy for difficult and developing challenges is a fool’s mission.

    As long as we have large groups, be they from one religious group or several, from a group defined by employment status or educational attainment, there will never be accurate proportional representation and I would argue nor should there be, nor need there be. How many unemployed police officers do we need (an oxymoron of course)? How many from Latvia or Somalia? How many physically fit but functionally illiterate? How many with a wrist circumference of “z” inches (or even centimetres).

    This approach is seeking an accurate answer to the wrong question – and that question was identified publicly as far back as the McPherson report over 20 years ago. How do we ensure our institutions and policy makers develop an appropriate understanding of the issues and challenges facing specific groups, whatever their composition? At the extremes, this is easy – we agree as a society that some things are unacceptable, no matter what personal, heritage or cultural drivers there may be. We say we are not interested in your group’s reasons for condoning this but we, in our society will not tolerate this behaviour. We outlaw lynching, murder and rape on a “no ifs, no buts” basis.

    Beyond (or in the sentencing hierarchy below) that things get more complex. What if I grew up using alcohol/drugs as part of my parent’s cult membership? What if my religion requires me to pray in a group of not less than ten during Corvid-19 lockdown? What about FGM (now of course illegal in UK)?

    We require a policing model which recognises that there will be differences of approach, culture and practice and the challenge (and I am not saying this is easy – we all know it isn’t) is to imbue officers and their leaders with a proportionate sense of what the world looks like from that perspective.

    Sending officers (or anyone else) on a half-day awareness course isn’t the answer. We need to establish an ethical framework which delivers confidence to all that they will be dealt with against a fair defined framework: if anyone does “this” they will be treated the same way, based solely on the fact that they did this thing. That requires consistency not just from the police of course, but in our context also from CPS, court service, judiciary and so on.
    Clearly, there are active perceptions that this is not the case.

    The medical profession has done this reasonably successfully. Male obstetricians and midwives, and female oncologists dealing with prostate cancer are nothing new and very few patients either object nor do they thing they will be treated differently or worse just because the medical professional is “different” from them.

    I am a long serving magistrate and only recently was dealing with a young black man (age 22) charged with permitting someone else to drive his vehicle without insurance. He came to court very angry as he claimed he was not guilty and that noone had listened to him. We did and he was acquitted. We were an all white bench of three (me plus two ladies) and on his way out he commented that we were the first white people who had ever listened to him and he thanked us not for the verdict, but for listening.

    Recruiting more officers from under-represented groups may help, but unless underlying attitudes and behaviours change, nothing else will.

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