• Thoughts on Merseyside Equality & Diversity conference

    Last week I attended a conference organised by a Liverpool based community group and was supported by Merseyside Police. The conference focus was ‘Equality in Policing’ and the themes emanating from the discussion centred around building relationships with ethic minority communities and examining how to encourage people from such communities to consider a career in policing.

    Attendance from the community was low but throughout the morning more people arrived and participated. Merseyside Police sent an Assistant Chief Constable, five Chief Superintendents, a Chief Inspector, a Sergeant and member of support staff. The initial speaker, Police and Crime Commissioner Jane Kennedy commented upon the commitment of Merseyside Police by sending so many senior officers and thanked them for giving up time to attend.

    In her opening address Jane made reference to Professor Simon Holdaway, a lecturer and writer on issues relating to police diversity, and his constant challenge to the police to learn and improve in this area. Simon had Tweeted before the conference, and highlights in his writing, that the police should not re-invent the wheel, so I raised this issue with the second speaker, and conference organiser Kamal. The reply from the floor was that there was nothing wrong with re-inventing the wheel if it worked! I think they missed the point - we were all sat there testament to the fact that ‘the wheel’ they were seeking to ‘reinvent’ had NOT worked and new, innovative methods and techniques designed to connect with communities should be investigated. The dialogue was punctuated by one delegate who said ‘the fact that we are still referring to Scarman and Lawrence suggests that nothing has changed.’ Another delegate stated that the police have ‘got to make people want to join the police’ which was followed by a statement that ‘young people are not interested, none understand the opportunities.’

    Throughout the first two sessions there were stories reflecting the fact that many of the BME community of Liverpool (the geographic area that seemed to be focussed upon) did not trust the police. This was explicitly mentioned on a number of occasions with one delegate stating that he knew of no-one in his community who would consider a career in the police for that very reason. One comment that was made to delegate was from a woman who stated that she ‘had never met a nice police officer.’ This again suggests that the police have to change the ways that they are trying to engage with communities. Indeed building and maintaining structures to enable the police to build relationships with communities was seen as an important issue with one delegate mentioning, ‘community policing is an eternal challenge. How do they [the police] get to know BME communities if there are no BME officers? Especially when mistrust of police is quite high in BME communities.’ So there is clearly a will for communities to connect with the police, they just need to find a suitable method for this to happen.

    The final three speakers represented Merseyside Police. Ch. Supt Rowley Moore gave a passionate and personal insight into what it is like to be a black officer in Merseyside Police and gave diversity statistics for each rank (shown below)

    Rank Number Ethnicity Gender

    Ch. Supt 16 1 BME 13 male 3 female

    Supt 27 2 BME 24 male 3 female

    Ch. Insp. 49 1 BME 36 male 13 female

    Insp. 182 4 BME 147 male 35 female

    Sgt 591 15 BME 477 male 114 female

    Con 3103 112 BME 2206 male 897 female

    Rowley’s key aim before retirement is to ‘create a new legacy and leave a better police service for BME officers’ who join Merseyside Police. However, he went on to imply that his aspirations might not be possible given the starting point of Merseyside - he is not sure that he would have reached the Chief Superintendent rank had he joined Merseyside as a constable (he joined Essex and went on to the Met before moving to Merseyside).

    Rowley discussed the fact that people often move into cultures where they feel comfortable. The fact that a number of BME officers told him that they feel ‘tolerated’ rather than ‘included’ suggests that there needs to be a cultural change before this is likely to happen. As chair of the Black Police Association (BPA) Rowley is working with black and white officers to try to secure such change, however, when examining representation of minority groups within the force it seems that he has a large task on his hands.

    Rowley was followed by Detective Inspector Irene Afful who spoke about the ‘Phoenix’ project that she had developed to enable young people from a variety of diverse groups to gain an insight into leadership and policing. This was the only time that Merseyside Police took the opportunity to discuss a positive programme of action to address the concerns of the community raised earlier in the conference.

    Constable Dominique Walker then informed the conference about her journey into joining Merseyside Police following the murder of her brother Anthony in July 2005. Dominique was very complimentary of the support that she had received from Rowley and a number of other senior officers when she was going through a tough period in her early career. This again was a beacon of hope for those from the BME community who may be thinking of a career in the police, and shows some possible signs that the legacy Rowley wants to leave Merseyside with might well be possible (with some imagination of course!).

    Some Reflections

    Although an interesting event I cannot help but think that Merseyside Police missed a trick. Those members of the community who attended were not ‘strategic representatives’, which made me wonder if the event would have benefitted from front line officers rather than the senior officers who did attend?

    A glaring, and all too common scene, was ironically played out again Rowley had earlier mentioned that people move in cultures in which they feel comfortable and the senior officers in attendance failed to make the most of the opportunity of meeting with the community and breaking down barriers. Instead they grouped together at each break and spoke to each other, a fact commented upon by two community attendees.

    Another issue noted was that at one point four out of five of the senior officers were looking down at their mobile phones rather than listening to the speaker. They certainly didn’t display active listening skills, and in the break demonstrated their lack of awareness about how their actions might be perceived. But more importantly they missed an ideal opportunity to engage with the non-police people in attendance and develop more meaningful and powerful relationships with those who they serve.

    Apart from the Phoenix problem we did not hear anything new. We heard about how people felt and we heard some very personal anecdotes (which were moving), but we did not hear about the strategy to break down barriers, listen to communities and act upon their wishes. If Merseyside Police and other police services across the country are really interested in building new relationships they will have to invest in learning and enable frontline officers to engage communities, as GMP did earlier this year.

    Anyone who has worked with Susan Ritchie (my colleague from MutualGain) will hear her often argue (sometimes rant!) “if police aren’t willing to invest in community engagement then that’s a pretty strong indication that it’s not that important to them.” If they really were good at engaging and connecting communities local policing would look very different to what it does now, not least because the police service would have a better opportunity to reflect the community they serve.

    Simon Holdaway is right. It is time to do something different and stop re-inventing the wheel. It has not worked in the past and it will not work in the future.

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