The launch of the *Black Police Association at New Scotland Yard in September 1994 was, in hindsight long overdue. The Association’s main thrusts of working for fair treatment and support for black colleagues together with a desire to contribute towards an improvement in police/community relations have been stated concerns of the Police Service for many years. It would therefore seem logical that black members of staff should have played an important part in tackling these issues yet, for a number of reasons, our involvement had been ad hoc and tokenistic.
Black professional associations are not a new phenomenon, there are several which have been operating in the Criminal Justice System for many years including the Association of Black Probation Officers and the Society of Black Lawyers. Unfortunately this development within the Metropolitan Police Service did attract some adverse comments in the media at the time – but why? The continuing impact of racism on black police officers had been well documented for almost two decades – was it not therefore inevitable and appropriate that black members of the police service should adopt a similar response to black members of other professions?
By comparison the recent establishment of a Senior Women’s Officers Advisory Group which aims to “identify and address issues which affect women police officers…….” seems to have passed almost unnoticed. However, when black members of professional groups come together to address issues of concern, we know from experiences in other organisations that white colleagues are likely to become resentful. Why should the Metropolitan Police be different?
In this article the term black is used to describe people of African, African-Caribbean or Asian origin unless otherwise stated.
In this article I will go back to a period when black applicants were refused entry into the Metropolitan Police Service. I will then discuss some of the research findings into the experiences of serving black officers and the way in which these led to the formation of the Black Police Association. After outlining our objectives and current progress I will finally will touch upon some of the issues which are beginning to emerge and which need further consideration.
The Failure to Recruit Black Candidates
The recruitment of black British Citizens in the 1950’s into the United Kingdom is well known although the importance of their contribution to the post-war reconstruction is often conveniently overlooked. Black settlers had to take jobs, which were below their level of training and ability and were subjected to racial discrimination in employment, which was not made unlawful until the 1968 Race Relations Act. This was Britain the 50’s and 60’s when “A dirty low paid job in England was better than no job at all in their own country of origin”.(1)
History has also overlooked the contribution that black Commonwealth Citizens made in two world wars. Black men and women wore military uniforms and died fighting for the ‘mother country’. After the war, like many of their white comrades – in-arms, some tried to join the Police Service for which they had become eligible in 1947 when the entry conditions had been changed so that an applicant need only be a “British Subject, a British protected person or a citizen of the Irish Republic”. But why did it take until 1967 for a black applicant to be accepted into the Metropolitan Police Service?
Many years ago I spoke to a senior civil servant who had been in the Metropolitan Police Recruiting Branch after the war and who told me that: “…we would get black Royal Marine NCO’s and other black ex-servicemen, some of whom were well qualified. There was always some embarrassment when the ‘John Smith’ on the application form turned out to be black. They were invariably found to be ‘unsuitable’.”
That was the practice – the official policy was different. In a reply to the House of Commons in 1952 the Home Secretary had stated that:
“I am informed by the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis that all
applications for appointment by British subjects are considered on their merit”.
It is known that there was opposition to the presence of black police officers from the lower ranks (2). However, there would also appear to have been opposition at the highest levels in the Metropolitan Police as this following extract from The Guardian in 1962 suggests: “.. Scotland Yard says it would be ‘unfair to a coloured man to act as a policeman in a predominately white society where he might be resented’. So it is alright for a coloured man to defend us from foreign body but not from malice domestic”.
Because of this unofficial ‘policy’ the myth began to spread that black candidates were not accepted because they could not achieve the standards required. Regrettably this myth persists today for it is still believed by many that standards have been lowered to accommodate black applicants.
I have touched upon the history briefly because it is relevant to the 1990’s and the concerns at the slow recruitment rate of black Constables. In 1973 the then Commissioner, Sir Robert MARK, who had made great personal efforts to encourage black applicants, made the following public statement: “I wish now that it was possible for members of the first and second generations to accept the duty they owe to the community by joining the police rather than to focus so much attention on their rights and privileges”.
So not only had the Metropolitan Police squandered the opportunity to recruit high calibre black citizens, but we were now being blamed for not joining! I often wonder whether there would have been a more harmonious relationship between black Londoners and their Police Service had the Metropolitan Police not exercised this discriminatory practice. was reported in 1970 as having . . . “never met with any hostility due to his colour.” He will tell you a different story today. No one told him to do so but, as many of us have learned, it is easier to deny the existence of racism if we wish to enjoy acceptance in the work place.
Race & The Police Culture
Allegations of racism in the Metropolitan Police Service began to receive considerable attention during the 1970’s but had gained limited credence – perhaps because they were made by black people, often in their own defense. However in 1982 the findings of the Policy Studies Institute research in the Metropolitan Police produced a wealth of information about the culture of the organisation based on the observations of non-police researchers.
Some of the revelations would have shocked many people outside the Police Service for not only were police officers in the Metropolitan Police seen as human, with human failings, but there were certain negative behavioural patterns which exceeded those found elsewhere. For example:
I defy anyone to tell me that they can be happy to work in an environment where they and their own people are regularly subjected to abuse. If any police officer doubts it he or she should be sent into an environment, which is hostile to police officers and be made to listen to a torrent of anti-police abuse. Anyone in their right mind would soon walk away but black police officers cannot exercise that freedom without giving up a career, which regrettably, many have been forced to.
More recently Dr. Simon HOLDAWAY has commented upon the experiences of black officers and the nature of the occupational culture within the Police Service. He notes that
Unfortunately racist “banter” and stereotyping continue to be one of the cornerstones of that culture.
“…we also found it necessary to recuperate from time to time and to retain the sense of our identity (the norms of the working groups are so powerful that they soon begin to impose themselves on the researcher as well as the official in the group)”.
The recruitment of black police officers has generally been slow over the years and there have been many recruiting campaigns, which have targeted black candidates. One of the reasons for this slow response is the justifiable perception that those who join will be subjected to racism within the Service as well as possible opposition or hostility from friends, relatives and black members of the public.
Between 1984 to 1986 I conducted research into the experiences of Black Police Officers. As part of the research I interviewed a matched sample of 36 black and 36 white police officers. I found that both groups had much in common, which was not surprising as they all do the same job. For example: both groups of officers showed a real concern about the quality of leadership displayed by supervising officers and derived considerable pleasure, or pain, when dealing with difficult, operational situations. However it was clear that officers of African Caribbean origins, in particular, faced additional problems caused by racism. The following are some of the issues which emerged.
1. Lack of support for victims of racism both from managers and the Police Federation.
2. White officers lacked sympathy and an understanding of the problems faced by black officers.
3. There was a perception among white officers of lower standards for black officers.
4. Black officers themselves felt they were seen to be ‘tokens’.
5. Racist language and abuse was experienced by a majority of black officers.
The report was comprehensive and a number of recommendations were made but no discernible action was taken to address some of the concerns raised. The findings were validated in 1 990 when the Metropolitan Police organized the ‘Bristol Seminars’ and many of the same issues emerged. The “Bristol Seminars” were a watershed for black Police Officers because, for the first time, substantial numbers of us were brought together (approximately 350 in four separate sessions) to try to help the Metropolitan Police to find out why black officers were leaving the Service at an alarmingly high rate. The seminars threw up many concerns, which amounted to a general lack of confidence in the Metropolitan Police Service as a fair employer. There was a widespread belief that the organisation had failed to ensure fair and proper treatment for all its staff. Amongst the findings were:
1. The fear of victimisation by the organisation if a complaint was made.
2. Being labelled (and the fear of being labelled) as a troublemaker by colleagues if a complaint was made.
3. The failure of supervisors to tackle racist language – (disguised as “canteen banter”).
4. A perception that career opportunities were limited for black police officers.
5. A feeling of isolation/lack of support.
The seminars generated much information, activity and good intentions. Working groups were set up to examine the main problem areas of grievance and discipline procedures, support mechanisms, recruitment and retention and training.
However, by 1993 when the Metropolitan Police organised the “Fairness, Community, and Justice” Conference, it was difficult to see any real improvement in working conditions. We may have had new policies but many of the long-standing practices continued. In hindsight we can now see that the real benefit of the Bristol Seminars was the creation of an informal network based on friendships made during the two days and the subsequent “Bristol Reunion” Social Functions. These seminars sowed the seeds for the formation of the Black Police Association. The “Fairness, Community, Justice” Conference was organised by the Metropolitan Police in 1993. It brought together people from within the Police Service and professionals from other organisations who had an interest and concern for issues around equal opportunities. Sir John SMITH, the Deputy Commissioner, told delegates that the main aim of the conference was to “inspire action”.
Furthermore delegates later heard a Commissioner for the Metropolitan Police Service who, instead of conceding that unacceptable behaviour was inevitable (a few bad apples) insisted that there was no room for it in our Police Service when he made the following comments: “But if we are to be intolerant of those outside the Police Service who fail to treat their fellow human beings with dignity and respect, we must be equally intolerant of our own colleagues who fail to reach the required standards. The argument that there is some excuse for poor behaviour because the culture of the Service can only be expected to mirror that of wider society and its behaviour, since this is from where we draw our personnel, is simply specious”.
This conference sent out a very clear signal to a number of those black officers who were present and did much to encourage us to come together to consider what we could do to help the Service to tackle racism.
The Police Staff Experience
Whilst the recruitment and treatment of black police officers has been well researched over the years, there has been little interest shown in the experiences of the Metropolitan Police black Police Staff. However in 1992 a small number of black junior and middle managers attended “Management development for “ethnic minorities” at the Civil Service College. Upon returning to work in the Metropolitan Police Service they too developed an informal network in order to reduce the sense of isolation and to offer mutual support.
Although we lack the research data, we do know enough about their experiences, and those of black members of staff in other organizations, to believe that we share many common concerns and aspirations. The contribution of the Police Staff is extremely important because they will often have close links with local communities and will also be able to bring a different perspective to what could easily be a largely police (officer) -oriented Association -at a time when the Metropolitan Police Service is developing a far greater sense of corporacy.
The Formation of the Black Police Association
A small number of black members of staff were invited to a meeting to consider the setting up of a support network. Those present, police and Police Staff, had a wide range of views and experiences within the Service, which would need to be reconciled. However, there was an early agreement that there were issues, which needed to be tackled, and that we could do so most effectively as a formally structured group.
The setting of the objectives in our constitution took quite some time and ultimately reflected our desire to operate (i) as a focal point for black colleagues who needed support and to be heard and (ii) as a link with members of the public.
The title of the association and the eligibility for membership were contentious subjects which were keenly debated.
The term “Black” (defined above) was considered by some to exclude “Asians” or other “ethnic minorities”. The view finally prevailed however that Black is an all-encompassing term which defines people who share a common experience in that they are the subjects of racism within British Society. It was agreed that Police was a term which included all members of the Police Service (i.e. police officers, Police Staff and special constables).
These early meetings and the lengthy discussions were particularly important because they helped us to develop a shared understanding of the issues to be tackled and how best to do so. As a result of these discussions we set ourselves the following aim:
“To improve the working environment of Black Personnel within the Metropolitan Police Service with a view to enhancing the quality of service to the public”.
In order to work towards achieving this aim we set ourselves the following six objectives:
1. To provide a support network.
2. To provide a social network.
3. To work towards equality of opportunity.
4. To work towards improving relationships between Police and black people in London.
5. To work towards improving recruitment and reducing wastage.
6. To assist in policy development.
The strategy has two main strands in that we wish (i) to provide support to black colleagues and to the Metropolitan Police Service in general and (ii) to work to bring about change when policies or practices are discriminatory. I will deal with each strand briefly
The main focus will be our black colleagues who need assistance and who feel that we may be able to provide it. There will be occasions when a black member of staff will prefer to speak to a black colleague (male or female) whom they feel will be in a better position to understand the issues. However we will not seek to replace the role of managers or staff associations – ideally we will help to bridge the gap. There is scope for action here because of the failure of many managers and staff association representatives to act positively against racism – they have been aware of research findings such as those referred to earlier but we feel that they have done little to tackle the problems.
We are also endeavouring to support the Metropolitan Police Service by actively helping to encourage black applicants and by offering to provide a further link with black people in London.
If we are to reduce the need for support we need to eliminate the effects of racism and discriminatory practices it is not enough merely to provide first aid to the casualties. We feel that our efforts to increase recruitment and to contribute to an improvement in relations with black people in London will be in vain if there is no real and perceivable improvement in Service delivery both internally and externally.
We therefore feel that we have a role to play in promoting, encouraging and supporting positive change but this has caused concern in some camps. However, we believe that when an organisation which can, and often does, have a disproportionately oppressive impact on a certain group of staff, that group needs to be heard.
An organisation cannot be the cause of problems and then expect to define and implement solutions without reference to those who are so adversely affected by them. Lord Scarman came to a similar conclusion after the ‘Brixton Disorders’ in 1981 when he identified the importance of consultation between the police and the community.
We also feel that there will be times when the perspective of black members of staff on a whole range of external quality of service issues will be of particular value to policy makers -especially as there are no black senior managers in the Metropolitan Police at present.
Progress to Date
The bulk of the work is carried out by the 16 members of the Executive Committee and we are currently working on the following: –
1. Setting up a support network – we already have been in contact with over 25 colleagues who have wanted to discuss various matters of concern.
2. Briefings to staff associations, senior managers and potential members – both in the Metropolitan Police Service and in the Constabularies.
3. The preparation of a newsletter.
4. Discussions with various outside groups (e.g. The Police Federation, Commission for Racial Equality and the Association of Black Probation Officers).
5. Discussions on matters of interest with senior managers in the Metropolitan Police Service (e.g. the Director of Personnel and the head of the Recruiting Section).
6. Presentations to police training courses and community groups.
7. Organising social functions.
I believe that we have made considerable progress in a short space of time despite difficulties in trying to make contact with black members of staff due to Data Protection Act restrictions. However the fact that we have been able to offer support and advice to over 25 colleagues alone highlights the need for our Association. Another important area of progress is our relationship with the Staff Associations. The Police Federation were initially reported in the media to be opposed to our establishment, but we have recently briefed a meeting of the Metropolitan Police Joint Executive Committee and I believe that we have been able to allay some of their concerns (e.g. about our being ‘divisive’). It is our intention to explore ways of working together. A similar briefing is planned for the Superintendent’s Association and Staff Associations and we are pleased to be able to report that the ACPO Personnel & Training Committee have expressed their support for what we are trying to do.
Of particular importance has been the positive support of the Commissioner and his senior colleagues. Not only has it encouraged us as individuals, it has also sent out a very clear signal that the Metropolitan Police actually wants its fair treatment policies to succeed.
At the recent Holly Royde Race Relations Conference in January, Ms. Kamlesh BAHL, Chair of the Equal Opportunities Commission, discussed the double discrimination faced by black women in the work place i.e. sexual and racial harassment. This has been a largely unexplored area to date within the Police Service but one, which is extremely important.
A National Black Police Association?
The Northamptonshire Constabulary is planning to launch a similar group later this year and a number of other Constabularies are exploring the possibility. The Black Police Association is keen to support and advise colleagues outside the Metropolitan Police Service because we know that they face similar experiences to ours. Whilst a national association is not imminent, there is a network which is currently forming and which is likely to consider a more formal structure in the future.
Training for Black Members of Staff
The impact of the occupational culture on black members of staff should not be underestimated nor should the difficulty in substantially altering it. Police managers have been aware of this for a number of years but have done little to prepare black members of staff for what they are likely to encounter. Black Affirmation Training is a response in the Probation Service. (I mentioned a similar course earlier which was being run at The Civil Service College).
It is important that black members of staff are enabled to operate effectively within the Service and this can be achieved in part by them understanding such issues as institutionalised and internalised racism and by developing strategies for dealing with racism within the organisation. It is my view that the Police Service has a duty to equip its black staff to develop within an environment which continues to be hostile to them – despite its fair and progressive policies.
The launch of the Black Police Association attracted considerable media and public interest. It has been described as divisive but I would hope that the reader is able to conclude that we are not about division. We are black members of staff who are professional in our approach to our work and who wish to contribute more to the Metropolitan Police Service in those areas where we feel that there is a need for real change and improvement.
Dr Simon Holdaway argues that:
“The onus for change should not be placed on Black & Asian officers�.. Responsibility for these matters lies with policy makers and managers”. (3)
Of course he is right. Mr Herman OUSELEY, chair of the Commission for Racial Equality, made the same point at our launch in September. However although there has been a good deal of research into the experiences of black police officers – we have not seen enough commitment to really tackling the issues of concern to us.
Author: – Ronald HOPE MSc., was a Chief Inspector in the Metropolitan Police Service and the first Chair of the Black Police Association, in 1995
1. The state of Black Britain, Dr. Aaron HAYNES, Root Books, 1983 Page 15.
2. (i) Resolution 13 of the Metropolitan Police Constables Branch Board Meeting of 15.6.1995,
(ii) The Police in Society, Ben WHITTAKER, FAKENHAM Press Limited, 1 982
(iii) Colour and Citizenship, pp 361/2, EJR ROSE and Associates, OUP
3. The resignation of Black and Asian officers from the Police Service, report to the Home Office, Drs. S. HOLDAWAY and A M BROWN P.106