The tragic death of George Floyd, who was killed by a police officer in Minneapolis, has sparked protests across the globe, and brought new momentum to the Black Lives Matter movement. Institutional racism has been proved to be an issue in the police forces of many countries, most notably in Britain through the Stephen Lawrence Enquiry in 1999, which called for measures to transform the attitude of the police towards race relations and improve accountability. Increasing the representation of ethnic minority groups within the police force is an important step in creating a force that reflects our society, and yet there is still a long way to go. Back in 2008, we undertook a survey looking at the diversity of the British police and representation of ethnic minority groups within it, setting out recommendations for how to tackle under-representation in the police force.
Read the findings of Diversity in Modern Policing here, or the conclusion below.
It is clear that many individual forces have been working hard on their diversity policies. Prior to the Lawrence Inquiry in 1999, there was no duty for the police to monitor the racial make up of its workforce. Estimations at the time put the figure at about 2% (for officers only). Based on our survey, the number is now closer to 5% for officers, and 7% overall. Nationally, the Home Office estimates BME officers in the force to be 5.1% and in the MPS almost 9%. This is clearly a considerable achievement.
That said, as far as we can tell, the total number of Muslims in the police remains extremely low; we estimate it to be less than one percent. Given that Muslims make up 3% of the population as a whole, they are largely underrepresented. Our figures also suggest that the police are potentially not making use of some of its best human resources, in particular in countering terrorism, as well as other forms of community police work and engagement.
It is important to be clear that our data provide a snap-shot of the numbers, rankings, and deployment of BME and Muslim officers and staff in the police. It does not tell us what the causes of this under-representation are. There are potentially a number of reasons behind these relatively low levels of diversity; institutional discrimination, a lack of adequate training, unwillingness amongst Muslims to join and advance in the force. At this point, however, it is speculation. Much more detailed research work is needed to have a clearer picture of what is driving these trends.
Despite calls from government about increasing the numbers of Muslims within the force and their strategic deployment, there is still limited understanding of how far this is actually taking place. While we were happy with the response rate overall, we were disappointed that so many forces did not respond to the Muslim specific questions. The lack of an evidence base across the service makes these issues much harder to understand and deal with.
The lack of information has created a haze of uncertainty over the plight of Muslims in UK policing. This means that each individual case of discrimination or alleged discrimination can only be assumed to be symptomatic of the conditions facing Muslim officers across the UK. Without credible data, police leaders find themselves in permanent defensive mode. This situation does not benefit anyone.
We are not suggesting that the police service should be forced to make every faith group, colour, ethnicity, gender, and so on perfectly representative. That would be close to impossible, potentially unhelpful in terms of operational effectiveness, and a huge amount of public money would be required.
What is important, however, is that everyone has a fair and equal opportunity to join and advance within the service. And where there is extremely large under-representation we should work together to understand what is driving it, and seek to correct it if appropriate. From a strategic perspective it is important that our best resources are deployed in the right places. Given the police service’s efforts intaking part in this survey, we are confident they share this aim fully.
We have four initial recommendations that can help achieve that goal:
Firstly, it is important that we understand what is holding back better representation within the police service. To do this, an in-depth survey, driven centrally with a national focus is needed, with which we can devise a more effective strategy. It will be almost impossible to improve this situation without systematic information on the position and role of BME and faith (including Muslim officers) across all the forces. If we are serious about ensuring that Muslim officers are able to rise through the ranks at the same speed as everyone else, and ensuring that Muslims are deployed to counter-terrorism duties at a time of heightened national security, we need reliable data to track, progress and measure success.
Secondly, forces were very happy to highlight some of the current initiatives they are implementing to tackle this issue. Some forces have implemented positive action policies, others have focussed more on encouraging greater diversity by holding outreach recruitment events. What we need is a better understanding of what works and why; and where there are clear successes, consideration should be given to expanding them elsewhere. We therefore recommend that the Police Service develop a meaningful database of Positive action Plans that have proven to increase outputs in relation to increasing the diversity of the police service. This could include a comprehensive Communication Strategy, which identifies the challenges it faces in relation to Recruitment Retention, Progression and Specialism.
Thirdly, there are clearly some immediate imperatives. Within the counter terrorism department, the numbers of serving Muslim officers is surprisingly low. Of course, the terror threat is not limited to al-Qaeda linked groups, nor is it only Muslims that are capable of understanding Islamist terrorist activity. However, having officers with a cultural, religious, or linguistic understanding of the individuals most likely to be involved in these groups could be an invaluable head start. Given the urgency of dealing with counter-terrorism, this is a matter of priority. This is as much in the interests of police leaders, as it is the Muslim officers themselves. We face a security challenge that requires us to use all available resources, and Muslim officers could add an important element to the effectiveness of the UK’s response to terrorism.
Finally, we ask the Home Office to draw up an action plan with all the stakeholders to progress the issues highlighted in this report.