Attempts to recruit more black police officers are being made “10 times” harder by the racial profiling by police, according to experts behind a government-funded recruitment programme.
Lord Woolley, former chair of the government’s Race Disparity Unit, said that recruitment was being compromised by the continued criminalisation of young black men for minor crimes, such as cannabis possession, and the racial disproportionality of measures like stop and search.
Initiatives such as the Home Office-funded Police Now, which aims to inspire graduates from black, Asian and ethnic minority backgrounds to join the service, are finding its messages undermined by measures that “harassed and intimidated black people”, according to Woolley.
This week Police Now, of which Woolley is a trustee, is to release a hard-hitting film to boost diversity in the ranks, arguing that police forces need to start resembling the communities they serve to help restore trust. But Woolley warned that such initiatives would make little difference so long as black people felt they were being “racially profiled”.
He said: “Home Office policy is translating into a further alienation of police officers and black people.
“We get stopped and searched more, so the last thing we want to do is join the police. That also means the police cannot police with consent because they are loathed; in effect, they are racial profiling, so it’s very difficult for me to recruit black people to the police force. My job has been made 10 times more difficult.”
Boris Johnson has made recruiting 20,000 new officers a cornerstone of his premiership, although he hasn’t stipulated any ethnicity targets.
On Thursday the Home Office announced almost 6,000 people had joined by the end of September, although again no ethnic breakdown was issued. By comparison, Police Now says it has recruited almost 1,600 officers over the past five years with 20% identifying as black, Asian and ethnic minority – a proportion it wants “to far exceed”.
Its recruitment of black officers stands at 6%, twice the size of the UK’s black British population. However Woolley, a commissioner for race on the Equality and Human Rights Commission and one of the founders of Operation Black Vote, said the stigmatisation of the black community and racial profiling threatened to cap numbers.
Official figures for England and Wales released last Tuesday showed that black people were nine times more likely to be stopped and searched by police than white people were.
Despite calls from campaigners to decriminalise cannabis possession the home secretary Priti Patel, has announced a return to a hard line on drugs offences.
Woolley said: “We have a very harsh home secretary who sadly has talked about zero tolerance for cannabis.
“Then you consider that 70 percent of stop and search are for drugs and stop and search is disproportionate. It’s targeting low hanging fruit, it’s default racial profiling and it makes it difficult to recruit people to join the police.”
His comments were made as stop and search returned to the spotlight after the police watchdog last week criticised the Metropolitan Police for officers committing many errors during the procedure. The
Independent Office for Police Conduct made 11 recommendations for Britain’s biggest force – responsible for almost half of all police stops carried out in England and Wales –to reform its use.
Last week a black police officer, Upile Mtitimila, said he was stopped and searched seven times as a teenager in Manchester, yet the police failed to explain why he was targeted.
“It massively shaped my perception of the police,” he said.
He learnt how such experiences were shared with friends and family, and rippled through communities, forming negative views that became entrenched.
Yet in 2016 he joined the police with a personal mandate to restore trust in the communities he served. He is now a sergeant.
Chief executive of Police Now, David Spencer,said the police service was still short of “being where we should be in terms of representation”.
A Home Office spokesperson said: “We are recruiting an additional 20,000 police officers and the home secretary has been clear this is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to increase diversity in policing.
“We’ve already recruited almost 6,000 of these officers, and since April 10.7% of new recruits have identified as black, Asian or minority ethnic. But we know there is more to do.”.