Wales’ police forces are still vulnerable to institutional racism

Police in Wales. Picture by Jon Candy (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Carl Connikie

This week I posted a message on Facebook congratulating three police officers, PC Wayne Marques and PC Charlie Guenigault, who collected their George Medal on 11th October 2018. In addition PC Leon McLeod was also collecting his Queens Gallantry Medal.

As quick as a flash someone commented: “I respect them but we all know the police is institutionally racist.”

This got me thinking. It’s been almost 20 years since the publication of the Macpherson Report, which gave life to phrase ‘institutional racism’.

Racism is an accusation that can make people defensive, so it’s worth looking at the original definition:

“The collective failure of an organisation to provide an appropriate and professional service to people because of their colour, culture or ethnic origin.

“It can be seen or detected in processes or attitudes and behaviour which amounts to discrimination through unwitting prejudice, ignorance, thoughtlessness and racial stereotyping.”

Sometimes it’s helpful to strip back the complexities surrounding a problem and go back to basics.

We clearly need our police forces. Every society needs a service to protect the weak from the strong. Otherwise, it would be anarchy where only the strong survive.

Once we accept that, then it also follows that the police must be representative of the society it polices, so that the concerns of minority groups are also represented.

That, however, is the sticking point; Wales’ police forces aren’t representative.

Structure

Data from 2018 shows that the BAME population of Wales is 5% of the total – 153,000 of 3,125,000 people.

However, BAME officers only represent 1.79% of the total number of police officers in Wales.

The actual number is just 123 BAME officers.

All our forces have a lot of work to do. The BAME population makes up:

  • 3.6% of the population of Gwent but only 2.2% of the police force
  • 8% of the population of South Wales Police but only 2.3% of the police force
  • 2.4% of the population of Dyfed Powys but only 1.09% of the police force
  • 2.2% of the population of North Wales but only 0.87% of the police force

Gwent would need to recruit a further 18 minority officers to match their BAME population, while South Wales would need an additional 165 BAME officers in order to be representative of the population at large.

Unfortunately, this is just the tip of the iceberg. What compounds the problem is that the vast majority of minority officers are located at constable level.

This is the rank structure of the police:

  • Constable
  • Sergeant
  • Inspector
  • Chief Inspector
  • Superintendent
  • Chief Superintendent
  • Assistant Chief Constable
  • Deputy Chief Constable
  • Chief Constable

Dyfed Powys, Gwent or North Wales have no visible minority officers above the rank of sergeant. South Wales Police has one Superintendent, one Chief Inspector and an Inspector.

This means that very few BAME officers reach a level within the police where they would be making decisions about how the police force operates.

Recruitment

In 2013 I wrote a paper saying something similar to this article and presented it to the then Chief Constable of Gwent, Jeff Farrar.

Following a few strategy meetings and action plans, the paper was tucked into a bottom drawer. Since then, not much has been achieved.

I recently spoke to the President of the National Black Police Association, himself a Gwent Police officer, who says he still refers to the 2013 report.

The culmination of this story was that I received an e-mail from an AM who said he was in the company of a Police Commissioner who asked him for ideas on how he could recruit more BAME officers.

This is the same Commissioner who has within his ranks the President of the Black Police Association!

It seems that since the inception of Police Commissioners in 2012, representation has been low on their list of priorities in Wales.

This is unfortunate since they were elected to ensure that the public received an optimum service from their police forces.

We in BAME communities are left to ask, what have they been doing for 5 years? Especially if one does not even know that they have the President of the National Black Police Association in their midst, on whom he could call to assist in resolving their recruiting problems.

The problem, of course, is that the officer in question has not reached the decision-making level so would not necessarily be consulted. Indeed, this officer was on the accelerated promotion scheme but got no further than sergeant.

Without full representation, especially at the decision-making levels, forces are vulnerable to what Macpherson called institutional racism where they fail to provide an appropriate service to parts of their communities because they do not know them.

Neither can they make informed decisions for them for the same reasons. This doesn’t just apply to the police service. The same would be true of any institution that provides a service to the public.


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