Labour would change law to improve police diversity, says Yvette Cooper

Shadow home secretary promises fresh drive by Labour in government to make police forces more representative of society

A Labour government would place a legal requirement on police forces to actively recruit black and minority ethnic (BME) officers and would consult on changing the law to allow New York-style "affirmative action" in their recruitment policies.

The shadow home secretary, Yvette Cooper, promise a fresh drive by Labour in government to make the 43 police forces in England and Wales more representative of the communities they serve, and claims that the momentum in recruiting more BME officers has been lost since 2010.

Cooper says the UK needs to follow the example of the New York police department, which now has a majority of BME officers and includes language skills in its recruitment criteria.

She says there are fewer BME officers in the police than there were three years ago – 6,537 in 2013, compared with 6,642 in 2010. Their overall proportion has remained static at 5% over the last two years, compared with around 14% in the population as a whole.

Cooper says Labour would go beyond introducing a legal requirement to have active recruitment policies to increase diversity, and would consult police leaders on changing the law to allow for more affirmative action.

High-ranking Metropolitan police officers and Sir Peter Fahy, the chief constable of Greater Manchester, have already called for a change in the law to allow 50/50 recruitment – which in broad terms means that a white officer can be recruited only if a BME officer is hired at the same time.

The Met has recently announced an objective of recruiting 5,000 new officers, 40% of whom should be from minority ethnic groups, in line with London's population. Senior officers have repeatedly testified that the "overwhelmingly white" profile of the police has damaged their ability to tackle crime and counter-terrorism.

Positive discrimination, under which people from under-represented groups are given preferential treatment to improve an organisation's ethnic profile, is illegal under employment law. But positive action, under which a minority ethnic candidate can be recruited over an equally qualified white candidate, is allowed.

Charles Crichlow, president of the National Black Police Association, has said affirmative action involved selecting from equally qualified candidates, so there is no question of selecting candidates who are not qualified.

The policing minister, Damian Green, recently revealed in a parliamentary answer that a cross-government ministerial ethnic minority steering group that is supposed to drive diversity across the police and other public services had not met since December 2009.

Cooper said: "The police need to reflect the communities they work in. But progress has stalled. The police themselves are calling for change. It's time for government action to make it happen. As the Metropolitan police have said following the Mark Duggan case, works needs to be done to build community confidence in policing, particularly in ethnic minority communities."

She said that meant going back to neighbourhood policing, reforming stop and search, and much more diversity in the police – especially in big cities.

"Although progress has been made in the last 10 years, it hasn't gone far enough – and more recently it has stalled. Ministers don't even seem to be interested – the ministerial group hasn't even met since the election," Cooper said. "Policing by consent depends on trust between the police and every community. Senior police officers have made clear they can't do the best job policing each community if they don't also reflect, understand and enjoy the confidence of every community.

"The police and politicians have talked about recruiting more ethnic minority officers for a long time, but progress has stalled. Its time for much more determined action and a step change in reform."

The New York police department has 40 officers assigned full-time to recruit from minority ethnic communities, and a multimillion-dollar advertising campaign that stresses the diversity of the force. It encourages applicants with language skills and provides officers with opportunities to learn new languages.

Bobby tax

A Labour MP has expressed concern that a £1,000 "bobby tax" will deter young people from poorer backgrounds and ethnic minorities from joining the police. Siobhain McDonagh was highlighting a £1,000 certificate in police knowledge required by an increasing number of forces. The Commons home affairs committee has said means-tested support is needed to ensure the best candidates are not put off by such financial barriers.


Alan Travis, home affairs editor

The GuardianTramp

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