After three weeks of protests and discussions following George Floyd’s death and the relaxation of lockdown rules I want to recap on where I believe we are and the next steps.
I indicated a few weeks back that a combination of tensions on race, easing of lockdown and the pressure on young people coupled with the return of normal business would create a challenging summer for us. After several weeks of protests we are now dealing, through Operation Reliant, with impromptu raves, a return of vehicle cruises this week and continuing gang related tensions. The demands are unlikely to ease and there will be additional pressures posed when licensed premises open in July.
I think this is a very difficult context for us all trying hard to do our job. The response has been outstanding from the force.
I do however suspect many of you are concerned over the challenges of using powers in this context. I want to reinforce that I support you in the work you do. Policing is difficult, messy and complex and I understand this.
We are always accountable for our actions and ready use of body worn video is important and you must use this in all stop searches and occasions where force is used or anticipated. It is important that through our individual actions we recognise the elevated levels of tensions we are addressing in our communities. I invite everyone to look at the Fairness in Policing Section of the intranet (internal link only accessible to West Midlands Police staff) that provides solid principles of how we can be most effective in dealing with the public to increase trust using procedural justice.
I am sure many of you have been through a number of emotions over the recent debate on race. I am proud we are having this conversation openly in WMP. We should remember that we are all discussing this inside WMP as we care about policing and the force. WMP has done at least as much as any force on diversity and inclusion. It is not however a time to rest on our achievements. Some staff have felt angry over their negative experiences in WMP. Some staff have felt equally emotional about feeling they are seen as racist. This is also playing out in our interactions in the community. The debate will need to continue but it is one that requires us to listen hard to what is being said and not react quickly or emotionally.
However, there are some truths and facts we are all going to need to accept.
I apologised last week for the things we have got wrong in policing the black community. I apologised to them because there are features of our history that show we have discriminated against black people.
Acknowledgement at this time is important. That acknowledgement openly accepts we are neither free of bias, discrimination or at times racism. It’s a fact and we reflect an imperfect society. We have made progress but we trade in trust and so we need to do more.
We have two very pertinent values to this debate:
The first is “I challenge unreasonable and discriminatory behaviour”. This supports our code of ethics which requires those in policing to “act with fairness and impartiality” and “I will not discriminate unlawfully or unfairly”.
This is first base. It means I won’t do harm or tolerate harmful activity. It is the reason why the force is never impartial on racist behaviour. While I feel we have made progress some of the experiences from underrepresented groups, the dismissals we have seen and the reason why I wrote to everyone this year sadly reflect a small number of people in policing don’t reach this level. I need to be clear if you can’t achieve this you have no place in policing as WMP must become free of bias, discrimination and racism.
The second value, “I want to work in a diverse team”, asks us to be active in championing diversity and create inclusive teams. This was already planned to be an objective in every WMP conversation this year for everyone. This week I asked every senior leader, including our team, to write down what we had done personally to support the Diversity and Inclusion work in force and what they will do this year. It’s an exercise we all need to do now as we need to do more and faster.
In taking this work forwards I want us all to move to a stronger position of acknowledgement and acceptance as we move into action. We intend to develop this with you all but I see three distinct areas:
Accepting and recording our history in this area. Many of you have never heard of the Scarman report, the McPherson inquiry or know about the Serious Crime Squad. These are issues well known to those of us who are longer in service in policing. They are critical points in our history on race and we all need to understand what they said then and what we did.
Capturing the emotions of this time as a watershed. Not everyone wants to share what they feel on the intranet and so we are looking at how to capture the voices of people in WMP at this time. It is powerful to share stories of people’s actual experiences. To share people’s fears. By listening we learn to be better and more inclusive. We also remember how we felt at this point.
Accepting truths. I have seen some arguments in the intranet disagreeing on some of the clear facts on race. I think we need to set out the truths about our position on recruitment, progression, fair treatment of staff, our service, our use of powers and force and our role in the criminal justice system as regards black people. These truths will need to set out what we can say is not right, what we think causes this, what we have done so far and what we intend to do.
By setting out these truths in the coming weeks and months we start to work out what to do. As you saw last week we are disproportionate in our use of force at every level on black people (versus white). We have to accept this is fact and then explore why and what we as professionals can do to address this.
I do not shy away from the focus on black issues in this discussion. It is a Black Lives debate and we must not lose the focus in a broader response to diversity. However many things relate just as much to other underrepresented groups and indeed to everyone. Everyone wants to be in an inclusive team.
These are tough issues to grapple with and I intend to fully involve you in what the issues are and, along with the PCC, where we need to go. We will seek to be at the front of this debate in policing and in society.