Number of black police officers ‘barely increased’ since 2007

Plans to recruit 20,000 officers a ‘golden opportunity’ to improve diversity, Police Foundation says

Police forces in England and Wales are making little progress on racial diversity, despite pledges 21 years ago to ensure staff accurately reflected their communities, a think tank has said.

A report by the Police Foundation found that while ethnic diversity within police forces was rising, the number of black police officers had “barely increased” since 2007.

Despite a peak of 1,504 in 2016, the number of black officers in England and Wales rose by just 86 between 2007 and 2018, from 1,412 to 1,498.

In comparison, the number of black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) officers as a whole increased by 43 per cent over the same period, even though the overall number of police officers decreased in this timeframe. The number of BAME officers went from 5,678 in 2007 to 8,126 in 2018.

But despite this rise, BAME officers made up just 6.5 per cent of the force in 2018 (up from 3.9 per cent in 2007).

The figures come more than 20 years after the publication of the Macpherson report into race and justice, which sought to identify the problems in policing that led to those who murdered black student Stephen Lawrence walking free. The report led to pledges of reform, including that forces would reflect the ethnic breakdown of the communities they served. But no force met the 10-year target to hit this goal. 

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Ian Hopkins, lead for diversity at the National Police Chiefs’ Council, said while the proportion of BAME officers and police staff was at its highest ever level, the force had still “been far too slow to increase diversity”. “We know there is still a long way to go so that policing is truly reflective of the communities we serve,” he said.

Hopkins added that the slow recruitment rate of black police officers likely reflected “the fact that confidence in police has historically been lower among black people than white or Asian”.

Sergeant Tola Munro, president of the National Black Police Association, agreed there was a distrust of policing within black communities, and Caribbean communities in particular. 

“Why would you look at policing when you run the risk of discrimination from some of your colleagues? There is a lack of confidence, particularly in urban areas,” Munro said. 

The Police Foundation’s director, Rick Muir, said having police forces representative of their communities is “vital for public confidence in the police”. He said plans to recruit 20,000 police officers over the next three years were “a golden opportunity to improve the diversity of the police workforce”.

The report noted that, as a group, police community support officers (PSCOs) were more diverse than police officers. BAME individuals made up 9.4 per cent of PCSOs in 2018 – although the report said the overall number of PCSOs had dropped significantly over the time period covered.

Muir agreed that the Home Office and Met should consider recruiting more PCSOs, who are “much more likely to be black or Asian than police officers, and provide a visibly diverse uniformed presence in local communities”, he said. PCSOs can also be a good source of talent for police officer roles, Muir added. 

Jill Miller, diversity and inclusion adviser at the CIPD, said the report underlined the need for better representation of different ethnicities in UK policing. She said data played an important role in tackling lack of diversity in any workforce. 

“It is essential that employers strive for a workplace culture where people from diverse backgrounds feel they belong, are able to reach their potential at work and progress their career,” she said. “Without this, organisations are likely to be missing out on talented individuals and are not representative of the local population, their customers, clients or the communities they serve.

“HR has an essential role to play in providing insight from workforce data to help explain a lack of diversity and inform the action needed. For example, looking at who’s applying for roles, who’s successful and why people are leaving.”