Charlotte Gill, Dail Mail (London), November 21, 2007
Sir Ian Blair’s force is spending £15,000 of public money creating “ethnically diverse” police mascots after one officer complained that the original white male model was alienating women and ethnic minority staff.
Scotland Yard approved the cost for creating a cast of four police figures including an Asian female community support officer called Sunita.
The decision has sparked a public row and led to some officers claiming the move is a result of “overbearing political correctness”.
PCSO Steve, a uniformed mascot complete with over-sized head and equipment, was created by the Metropolitan Police for visits to primary schools.
But one of the force’s sergeants slammed the character for failing to represent the capital’s communities.
He said the figure, which is white with blue eyes and blond hair, risked leaving Asian and women officers feeling “isolated”.
The sergeant cited an incident where an Asian colleague was not able to wear the short-sleeved outfit because his arms were darker skinned than the costume.
Now senior officers have said they will invest £15,000 in the design and production of three new characters.
In a written response to questions from the London Assembly, the Commissioner said staff from the force’s diversity unit were brought in to help create the costumes.
Sir Ian said: “These characters will be more representative of London’s population and the diverse range of police personnel.
“The choice of characters will allow the concept of a Safer Neighbourhoods team to be presented to young children as well as delivering an important message about the different roles of PCSOs and constables.”
The original PCSO Steve costume was created in 2005 and is based on real-life Sutton borough police community support officer Stephen King.
Paid for by a £1,000 sponsorship deal with a local plumbing firm, the character proved a huge hit at schools and other public events.
Despite its success, one officer criticised the mascot—sparking a force-wide debate.
In a letter to police in-house magazine The Job published yesterday, one officer said the row could damage relations between the police and the public.
Pc Geoff Parker, who works in Islington, said: “One of the things that is damaging our job and our relations with the community is this constant overbearing political correctness.
“We seem to be taking the issue to the extreme, and pandering to every whim and gripe. We need to take a sensible approach to this and stop over-reacting.”
Another officer, Wahab Mohammed, wrote: “Being a dark-skinned Asian myself, I think the so-called problem is pathetic.
“What happened to long-sleeved shirts? This is a very good initiative but you always have to have someone criticising the most minute things.
“Honestly, I’m sure people could spend a bit more time trying to deal with matters that actually affect people. PCSO Steve is a good lad.”
The project has now been renamed “Police Pals” and police officer versions of the costumes will also be made.
The 12 new costumes—four for each character—include PCSO Steve, an Asian woman PCSO named Sunita, and a man and a woman police constable. They are expected to be ready early next year.
The £15,000 bill includes £600 in design costs and £14,400 for the creation of four suits for each of the three characters.
Sir Ian has striven to make the Met more ethnically diverse.
In the month he started as Commissioner in February 2005, the Oxford English graduate replaced the phrase “visible ethnic minority” with “minority group”.
Last year, he asked his officers to declare whether they are homosexual, a first step to setting up quotas for numbers of gay and lesbian officers.