Black people in Bedfordshire underrepresented in police force

Home Office data shows at the end of March, there are just 13 black officers in Bedfordshire Police

Black people in Bedfordshire are significantly underrepresented in their police force, new figures reveal.

The National Black Police Association says disproportionate use of police powers on black people in England and Wales means fewer members of the community are attracted to policing as a career.

Home Office data shows there were just 13 black officers in Bedfordshire Police at the end of March – a rate of 10.7 per 1,000 officers whose ethnicity was recorded.

Home Office data shows there are just 13 black officers in Bedfordshire Police at the end of March

But a recent analysis by the Government Statistical Service shows that 51.4 per 1,000 people in the area are black – nearly five times the rate in the police workforce.

Rates were calculated using police force area population estimates from mid-2016 – the latest year with an ethnicity breakdown.

Andy George, president of the National Black Police Association (NPCC), said police forces have been too slow and inconsistent in addressing a lack of diversity in their ranks.

He said: “Black communities are facing the most disproportionate use of police powers, particularly stop and search and use of force.

“This will inevitably lead to fewer members of the community seeing policing as a viable career.”

Mr George said the Government’s pledge to recruit 20,000 extra officers by 2023 offered a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” to make police forces reflective of the communities they serve.

The death of American George Floyd while in police custody on May 25 sparked protests across the world, including in many UK towns and cities.

It has reignited debates over racism, and the relationship between the police and black communities.

A report released earlier this year by the Police Foundation think-tank said increasing levels of diversity in police forces since 2007 had mainly been driven by the recruitment of Asian and mixed ethnicity officers, while black representation had “barely increased”.

In Bedfordshire, there were 123 officers from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds in March, up from 119 a year earlier.

This still underrepresents the community – the figure accounts for 101.2 per 1,000 officers while BAME people make up 225.1 in 1,000 of the population – but the disparity is greater for black people specifically.

But the Home Office said this still “considerably underrepresents” those communities – BAME people make up 145.2 per 1,000 of England and Wales's population, according to mid-2016 estimates.

Mr George said grouping entire communities together under the umbrella term BAME leads to police forces not understanding the unique needs of individual communities and their trust in the police.

Ian Hopkins, the NPCC's lead for diversity, equality and inclusion, said: "The slower rate of progress in recruiting black police officers is likely to reflect the fact that confidence in police has historically been lower among black people than white or Asian."

But he added that the drive to recruit 20,000 new officers was a "generational opportunity" to address this.

A Home Office spokeswoman said: “The Government wants to see people from all backgrounds joining the police, with police forces that are representative of the community they serve.”

Chief Inspector Mohammed Aziz at Bedfordshire Police said: “Over the last five years, we have made significant progress in improving workforce diversity within Bedfordshire Police.

“In 2015, our BAME representation was 5.7 per cent, which was the third lowest national representation when compared to the population of the county we serve.

“We addressed the situation by launching a programme to improve this and the force is now at 10.1 per cent BAME representation, the greatest overall percentage increase of any force in the UK.

“This has been achieved by increasing community engagement, building relationships and targeted recruitment communications to our BAME communities.

“This year alone, some 15.8 per cent of our new recruits come from BAME backgrounds. However, we believe more can be done to improve our representation, not only in recruitment, but in retention and progression.

“This is a commitment we have made towards our people and to our workforce development, as we strive to improve our diversity and workforce representation.”