Reiss Smith, Independent, February 25, 2019
For many black, Asian and ethnic minority (BAME) people, the police are the other. We make up 13 per cent of the UK population but just 6.6 per cent of officers.
Does it come as a surprise then, that black people are almost ten times as likely to be stopped and searched as our white friends? Or that even the Metropolitan Police — the most diverse force in the country — is four times as likely to use force against black people than it is against white people?
Sara Thornton, the chair of the National Police Chief’s Council, has warned that new laws are needed to “shock the system” and accelerate the diversification of our forces. At current rates, the make-up of the police won’t match that of society until 2052 at the earliest. And until the forces reflect our communities, how can they be expected to serve us properly?
Positive discrimination is needed to address this vitally urgent issue, Ms Thornton said. A message that wasn’t passed on to 25-year-old Matthew Furlong.
Mr Furlong applied to join Cheshire Police as a constable in 2017, where he hoped to follow in his father’s footsteps. He was told during his interview that he could not have done any more, but failed to win the role.
Last week, a judge ruled that he lost out on his dream job “simply because he was a white, heterosexual male”. The tribunal found that Cheshire Police, intent on diversifying its new intake, set an “artificially low” pass rate for applicants, awarding a simple pass or fail instead of making decisions based purely on academic merit.
It seems that the force thinks along the same lines as Ms Thornton — but doesn’t yet have the legal backing to deliver this much-needed change. The tribunal said that positive action must only be used to decide between candidates that are otherwise identically qualified. But shouldn’t the force be applauded for trying to tackle this issue? And perhaps more importantly, should the good of the community — surely positively impacted by a diverse police force — not be taken into account alongside an individual’s academic achievement when it comes to public office?
For Mr Furlong, it was no doubt disheartening to be told that he lost out on a role because of his race, sexuality and/or gender identity. It’s an experience shared by many of us, who are often rejected for being too black, too gay, too female.
At its earliest, discrimination rears its head in the classroom and follows us through to our adult lives. Black students in particular are over-represented in the UK’s university population (though Oxbridge and its ilk continue to be woefully white), but are much less likely to graduate with a 2:1 or first than our white peers.
When it comes to employment, many fall at the first hurdle, failing to secure interviews based on name alone. It’s been proved time and again that Adam is much more employable than Mohamed — an issue which leads some BAME people to adopt more white-sounding names.
The cycle has been going on for years: our white peers secure the all-important graduate roles, and so we fall behind when it comes to advancing to senior positions wherein we might just have a chance of enacting change. Not to mention, we’re underpaid to the tune of £3.2bn per year.
Just 3.7 per cent of senior police officers come from an ethnically diverse background. Short of just parachuting in people from different walks of life, the best way to address this is through a series of measures designed to change the force from the bottom up. Positive action, name-blind recruitment and better community engagement are all vital.
Perhaps Mr Furlong was more qualified than his peers. But then again, he’s benefited from privilege throughout his life. And while he’s perfectly entitled to call out discrimination where he sees it, there are occasions such as these when it is justified and — until real equality is delivered — necessary.