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Trust 'critical' for better police diversity

TRUST: Chief Supt Matt Ward, left, with Chief Constable Dave Thompson

THE BLACK community’s apparent lack of trust in West Midlands Police, which is reflected in appallingly low recruitment figures, must be tackled through fairness and transparency if the force is to reflect the community it serves.

Chief Constable Dave Thompson said it was critical to recruit and retain more black senior officers to shape the future direction of the force, with some ‘serious corporate head hunting’ needed to attract the BME community.

He was speaking at a reception to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the West Midlands Black and Asian Police Association, (BAPA) and also the 50th year of the first black officer being recruited in the region.

But he was critical of the slow progress made over the past two decades and said he was concerned that there now seemed to be fewer black candidates coming forward today than 20 years ago.

This is borne out by figures in the force’s latest recruitment drive launched two months ago: out of 8,000 people who have registered an interest for just over 1,000 police posts, only 89 are from the black community.

Last year the force faced questions from its own Police & Crime Commissioner David Jamieson after it emerged that just one black officer was among 162 new recruits – the first to be employed since 2010.

Police said there was still a problem trying to recruit black males, Muslim women, and also those from the Chinese and Bangladeshi communities.

But during the BAPA reception at Birmingham Council House there was a positive response during a community discussion panel, led by BAPA chair Inspector Karen Geddes, on the force’s future plans to harness the skills of the BME community.

Khalid Mahmood, Labour MP for Birmingham Perry Barr, said: “We need to challenge the past, recognise that and move forward to create a new future for all our communities. We are all too long in the tooth to keep on moaning about the police.

“It’s the responsibility of all of us – in our churches, our temples our mosques and our gurdwaras to encourage young people in our communities.”

CHALLENGE THE PAST: Khalid Mahmood, Labour MP for Birmingham Perry Barr

But panel member Elaine Clough, vice chair of the Caribbean Reference Group, said she felt unconscious bias still existed within the force and frank conversations were needed with a community that historically felt disenfranchised, over-policed or ignored.

She said: “In the end it comes down to this: ‘Do I believe that the police will do right by me and if they get it wrong will they apologise?’ And if there is a hesitation in answering this question, that is what needs to be tackled.

“A lot of Black people who are asked to join the police will say: ‘No man, not me’ and often they cannot tell you why. Then it turns out a cousin from three generations back was abused by the police and that suspicion has remained in the family.

“If we cannot have some frank and open conversations on this, then we’re on a hiding to nowhere. It’s not rocket science – it’s all about coming to the table with a bit of humility.”

She also felt that key performance indicators (KPIs) for senior officers would also be a useful tool to monitor the diversity of recruiting in their own areas.

Several people in the audience felt that those who had been on the wrong side of the law when they were much younger should be given a second chance if they wanted to join the police.

Ricky Dehaney, chief executive of Prison Link, said: “It’s also unfair that those who have a family member with a criminal record should not be allowed to join. That could be the driving force for making that person a good police officer.”

BIAS: Elaine Clough, Vice Chair of the Caribbean Reference Group

The Chief Constable agreed that there needed to be serious conversations on this issue, but said barring people with criminal records had been set down in law by the Home Office.

Retired lecturer Bentley Cunningham said he felt the police should ‘endear’ the local community by ‘recruiting them first.’ He said the force should use garages owned by the black community and also use their catering and cleaning services, which would help win over trust.

The Chief Constable added: “There is no doubt that the biggest issue is trust and this is not helped by the awful situation in the United States.

“I met some young people recently at an event and one said: ‘The trouble with the police is they shoot people.’ No-one in the West Midlands has been shot by police since 2002, but this is the influence of America.”

Panel member Dr Carver Anderson echoed the issue on trust, saying that more strategic partnerships were needed within the community, along with more critical conversations.

Police & Crime Commissioner David Jamieson, who launched his Commission on Gangs & Violence earlier this year, said he recalled meeting some mothers in Birmingham who told him they felt they had given up hope because they felt they had lost control of their children.

He said: “We need to put back that hope into the community and re-empower them in order to move forward.”

However, Chief Superintendant Matt Ward, one of the West Midlands’ most senior black officers, told the reception: “The situation is definitely changing for the better.

“There have been more efforts to have more diversity in the past 12 months than in the past 21 years of my police career. I think progress is being made. And I believe we’re moving forward in the right direction.

“The trust gap is real and significant between different communities and it requires a leap of faith on both sides to put aside some of these preconceptions. We have to understand the journey that we’ve been on, but platforms like this are a really good place to have these discussions.”

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