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Diary of a Heritage Manager – Diversity – ‘The Police are the Public, and the Public are the Police: represent the communities you serve’

Published on | #WeAre50, General

Buckle up, this is a longer read than my earlier blog posts, as the very broad topic of diversity understandably has several very unique strands that all warrant a mention in their own right.

At the beginning of policing, all police officers were white men. This was not simply down to policing being exclusive and unaccepting, it reflects society as a whole, where many aspects of UK society were not accommodating to women, ethnic minorities and those with disabilities.

This is a strand I want to highlight throughout this blog – that policing is reflective of society at that particular time.

As attitudes towards different communities change, so does policing. However, that doesn’t mean that it isn’t worth highlighting some of the very brave individuals and pioneers who paved the way for those that followed.

For anyone to be the ‘first’ or one of the only members of their particular community within policing must have been exciting, daunting and maybe downright terrifying. It may have also attracted negativity from within their community, leading to a particularly isolating position whereby individuals find themselves in-between two different groups, not feeling wholly part of either one.

I’ve focussed on changes since the creation of West Midlands Police in 1974 here, but the museum often shares stories on earlier pioneers on our social media, within our displays and through talks we deliver.

Women in policing

Female police officers have been around in the West Midlands since 1917, but what role did they play at the creation of West Midlands Police in 1974? At this time, the Women Police Department (WPD) still existed, it was common in many police forces for women to be paid a percentage of what their male counterparts were paid, and women quite often did not patrol alone or at night.

The Women Police Department had existed since the early days of policewomen in Birmingham. A specially trained unit, ready to deal with incidents involving women and children and what we might now consider social work, these women would also be allocated to assist with sexual assault investigations and executing warrants where children were expected to be at the address. Some female officers were posted out on divisions supporting neighbourhood policing and had been since just after World War II, but the majority worked out of the WPD.

The Sex Discrimination Act 1975 changed everything for policewomen. For the first time, it was illegal for people to be treated differently because of their gender. Some policewomen had previously had their applications to specialist roles torn up because they were women, but this new legislation paved the way for the first female dog handlers, mounted officers, motorcyclists and firearms officers.

Whilst they do the same job as the men, reasonable adjustments are sometimes made to accommodate female officers within these roles – for example the force purchased some motorcycles with a lower seat height, for female motorcycle officers who were generally shorter than male colleagues.

One particular trailblazer in the West Midlands was Kay Weale. Kay was the first female officer to pass the training course for mounted officers and be posted to the Mounted Branch in 1985. Ironically, her arrival on the unit was delayed because most of the local male officers were away policing the miners’ strikes, and female officers were heavily relied upon to keep everything going back in the West Midlands.

Kay states she was pranked by her fellow officers right from the beginning, however she demonstrated real character and gave as good as she got, earning her the respect of her male colleagues and a fantastic career within the branch before she left after having her children.

Kay remembered such things as buckets of water hidden over doors, cling film over the toilet seat and being fully dunked in the water trough. But she got her own back – one of her biggest victories was setting a jelly in a colleague’s welly! Kay states she absolutely loved her time there: the horses were a great public engagement asset with schools, fetes and carnivals, and excellent for crowd control at football matches and public order situations.

It was normal for policewomen to resign from the force once they got married right up to the 1990s (even though women were allowed to remain once they got married since the Second World War), and it was very rare for women to stay after having children until into the 2000s.

Female staff numbers in the West Midlands have increased by 700 (14%) since 2004. This is largely due to police officer numbers, as while staff numbers have increased marginally, the overall increase in staff has seen a percentage decrease of females. In addition, whilst police officer female representation is at 36.2%, recruitment representation since the start of the latest significant recruitment uplift (Oct 19) is at 41.2%.

The Women in Policing network exists to support female officers with any challenges they face through their gender, and also act as a sounding board and voice of reason for the force, if colleagues ask for unreasonable adjustments that simply cannot be accommodated. Whilst policing has come an incredibly long way since the first female officers walked the streets in the West Midlands in 1917, there are still some hurdles to overcome, as recent work on how to support women going through the menopause highlights.

Black and Asian officers

The first black and Asian officers recruited in the West Midlands date back to 1966, with the arrival of Ralph Ramadhar in Birmingham and Mohammed Yusuf Daar in Coventry. By 1974 there were a handful of black and Asian officers, but they were few and far between.

Ramesh Kumar QPM shared his experiences with us of being the first Asian police officer in the Black Country, joining the West Midlands Constabulary in 1970 as a cadet. He wanted to follow his father’s footsteps in policing, even though he didn’t speak English when he came to the UK in 1965. He ended up being the first Asian police cadet in the country. Ramesh used to walk the streets in his uniform and local people would be shocked, coming out of their shops to see him. Although he was based in Smethwick, he was called upon all over the force to use his language skills to liaise with the Asian community. He fondly remembers early work with Tariq Somra (who was the first Indian police officer in Birmingham, joining in 1969) and Bash Desai (Coventry). During his service he did advanced driving, CID enquiries and undercover work, as well as community liaison. He is most proud of his achievements in recruiting Black and ethnic minority officers to the service.

On the 1st January 1996, after much work by Sergeant Stan Bean and colleagues, black officers and support staff in the West Midlands met for the first time to share openly their feelings and experiences. They saw the need to address the high number of black officers leaving the service and from this an informal social network was established, called the Black Police Association. The following 12 months saw the association go from strength to strength, even though many officers and staff were nervous about joining, worried about being labelled a troublemaker. It later became the Black and Asian Police Association (BAPA).

The group aimed to address inequality within the force and support retention and recruitment of black and ethnic minority officers, as well as providing a support and social network for black colleagues.

BAPA is still providing support for officers and staff today and is complemented by other initiatives to help to recruit and retain a more diverse workforce, and ensure the diverse communities of the West Midlands are treated fairly, such as the Afro-Caribbean reference group and the national Police Race Action Plan.

West Midlands Police had the highest proportion of ethnic minority officers in the country with 4.19% in 1998. Whilst police officer ethnic minority representation is currently at 13.9%, representation amongst new recruits since the start of the recruitment uplift programme (19 October) is at 18.7%.

The second part of this blog, focusing on other strands of diversity will be published later in the week!