With London’s being the most diverse city in the UK, with an estimated 9m residents of which 40% are from BAME backgrounds, it makes sense that Commissioner Dame Cressida Dick DBE QPM, the Met’s first female commissioner, is keen to develop a more representative workforce, by encouraging people from Black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds to join the Met Police and monitoring groups.
Akousa Dwomo-Fokuo, from Keep The Faith, spoke with Commissioner Dick to find out more about the BAME recruitment drive undertaken in 2020 and what steps are being taken to encourage and support ethnic minorities to join the Met Police.
Akousa Dwomo-Fokuo (ADF): Good afternoon, Dame Cressida. Thank you so much for taking time out of your very busy schedule to have this conversation with us.
Dame Cressida Dick (DCD): I am really pleased to be talking to Keep The Faith. I believe it is an interesting and well-produced magazine. They are doing well.
ADF: Thank you for your kind words. Yes, we are happy with the impact the magazine is having. I would like to kick-start the conversation by talking about the recruitment drive to encourage Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) people into the Met. How can you provide assurance that Black applicants can have rewarding careers, where they are developed, supported and trained, so they can reach the top of their careers within the Met?
DCD: You are right, we are working hard to try and reach into all our communities, particularly our Black communities and, of course, the wider BAME communities, to get people to join us in a whole variety of roles – not just as police officers. We have many technical roles, for example forensics, special constables, and we have our volunteers. There’s a whole range of different things people can do, and we are being very successful at encouraging people to join. We are growing, which is great. If you join the Met, you will find yourself part of a large organisation – with all kinds of opportunities – that takes your development and potential very seriously. We now have over 5,000 BAME officers, which is a huge step up and I am delighted. We have people from those backgrounds across the whole organisation in every discipline, at every kind of level, and I believe that it’s a lovely place to work.
ADF: That’s great to hear, and I am certain our readers will be happy to read this. The National Black Police Association has been around for three decades, and they are still raising issues of institutional racism. As blatant forms of racism become extinguished, particularly in the current climate of political correctness, subtle forms of unconscious racial biases are appearing. What new approaches are you, Commissioner, adopting to combat the new pervasive virus of racism that exists within your own organisation, and how do you plan to build the confidence within the Black community to encourage applications?
DCD: Well, I wouldn’t agree with all your analysis to start with, but I don’t want to get into an argument about the question. As Commissioner of the Met for the past three years, I have been very clear that raising confidence in our Black communities – for people to work with the police, and for them to feel confident in the police as a service and somewhere to work – has been one of my highest priorities. I have put in an enormous amount of personal investment into this. I have also invested a great deal of senior leadership and other time into a whole variety of different things. For example, I have been very clear from the beginning that I/we have zero tolerance of racism and racists, and if people are found to be acting in a racist manner they will be out, and that’s all there is to it.
I am aware that there may be unconscious bias, for example, and all our officers and staff have had training. All our new entrants continue to have training on unconscious bias. We train on a variety of aspects of diversity, including how to be a more inclusive manager; how to deal with disputes; how to think about providing the best possible workplace for the people that you lead… We are always learning, we’re always adapting, we’re always changing, and we are soon to bring in a new method of entry for police officers that I hope will appeal to many of our young and not-so-young Black citizens, who may wish to join us under the apprenticeship scheme. Whilst they are paid at a reasonably good salary, they will be able to get a degree and, within the degree, there will be a considerable amount of education. Amongst other things: history of police relationships with different communities; about London; about African and Caribbean experiences of racism, and so forth. These things I take very seriously… but I will leave it there for now.
ADF: That is extremely reassuring, especially against the backdrop of recent heightened racial tensions. I would like us to touch on monitoring groups. Scrutiny of stop and search is performed by local Stop and Search Community Monitoring Groups, which are acting for their communities to hold officers to account and to raise complaints. Now that the rules have changed, it means that these Monitoring Groups are not able to support their communities in the same way. We know that many community members and young Black men, who are the most affected, fear reprisals if they complain directly. Does this not undermine the role of Monitoring Groups and their ability to speak up for the very community you say you are appealing to, particularly regarding community trust and confidence?
DCD: I’m afraid I don’t recognise exactly the problem you are talking about. What I can say is that, over the last 20 years since the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry report, we have made some massive changes in all sorts of areas to improve us as a police service, particularly in the way we provide a service and work with people from our Black communities. One of the things that I have been determined that we will be, is ever more transparent and ever more accountable. For example, if somebody does have a concern, and it is dealt with either by the Met or by the Independent Office for Police Conduct, I take a huge interest in that being done properly, robustly and fairly. There is a very strong system there.
I take very seriously the role of members of the community in observing what we do, whether that’s on the streets or in our control room, or while a stop search is happening, and we have that all over London. We are completely open. In the coming weeks and months, I want to see us using the monitoring groups and similar organisations even more. I believe we are the best police service in the world, but I do know that many people still have some fears and concerns about us. I do believe that the community getting involved with the police, community volunteering in a variety of different ways with the police service – as well as, of course, joining us – is a very important method for us to improve. It’s vital that local people can support anybody who feels aggrieved in their dealings with the police, and equally that they can scrutinise us. I want to improve things. We can do more, and we will.
ADF: You have asserted that policing has changed over the last 20 years, but you still desire to do more. Can you expound on how you believe policing has changed over the years, and share some of the plans for policing for the future?
DCD: Policing is very much more accountable, scrutinised and transparent than it ever was. For example, we’ve all had the body-worn cameras in the last couple of years, whereby interactions with the public involving, for example the use of force, will now be filmed, and everybody can see what happened. We don’t shrink from that, we like that. I would contrast it with many other organisations and professionals, and say my people are more scrutinised on the streets than probably any other professional. But we’ve also done an awful lot to try to reach out to London’s wonderfully diverse communities, to ensure that we have good contacts, good understanding and education for our officers, so that if we are planning an operation or, God forbid, if something has gone wrong, we know who to speak to to get advice to see how we can put things right, and to approach the next stage of tactics.
I don’t have a single strategy, process or plan which isn’t looked at by members of the community to tell me what they think, so involving the community has been a big change. I’ve talked already about the large rise in people from the BAME community who have joined us over the last 20 years.
I think the Met looks and feels very different from the one I knew 20 years ago. People can be themselves and thrive with us. We’ve done huge changes in how well we respond to hate crime, and how we support people who are fearful of hate crimes. Our whole policing approach is very different from 20 years ago – and I am very proud of the strides – but it’s quite clear there is more to do, not least in relation to the community relationship, where I recognise that some communities have lower levels of trust than others.
I don’t wish to stereotype, but all my data shows me that young Black men have less confidence than stereotypically older White women, and we are trying to reduce that gap. It means things like the 600 officers I now have in schools; the investment we have made in neighbourhood officers; the youth engagement officers we have; our huge numbers of cadets (50% of which are BAME)… and we want to build on that further. We want to get the public more involved, to understand more, to be better educated if you like about what they should expect from the police, and what their rights are. I think that’s a very important thing for young people growing up. When we get things wrong unwittingly, because sometimes we will, we have to be quick to apologise, to be clear about what happened, to try to learn any lessons. I do believe we are the best police service in the world, but we are human beings. We are not perfect, and we don’t always get everything right.
ADF: Well, that all sounds very positive. Before I let you go, do you have any personal words for our readers?
DCD: Just to say I am delighted to be speaking to Keep The Faith magazine. I have often worked closely with churches over the last 20 years, and with Black churches in particular. I think the people who will be reading your magazine do so much good in our world, and can and do have so much influence. Now that we are coming out of the dreadful challenges of the COVID lockdown, when people are angry about the way in which it has affected some people and communities more than others, and when we have real challenges, still overall, during my commissionership, with knife crime and how it is affecting young people, there is such a wonderful positivity and sense of calmness that comes from so many people who attend the churches that
I think you represent in your magazine.
So, I mainly want to say thank you and keep up the good work. Let me know what I can do differently to help you in your good work.