West Midlands Police oversees one of the most diverse regions in the country - and reflecting a broad ethnic mix in its officer ranks is crucial for community relations, to engage 'hard-to-reach' people, and enhance cultural understanding.
Black and minority ethnic (BME) officers make-up around nine per cent of the force's total strength - but more than one in six of the 82 new PC recruits that hit the streets last month are from minority groups.
That's testament to the efforts of Khizra Dhindsa and her Inspector Farooq Sheikh in the ‘Positive Action' team - a specialist recruitment unit aiming to ensure a healthy flow of applications from budding PCs across all communities.
In this latest WMPeople interview Khizra outlines how the force is bolstering its BME officer numbers…and how she's created a counter terrorism network of mums across the UK!
What does the Positive Action Team do to encourage officer applications from under-represented groups?
We've organised ‘Discovery Days' at universities, schools, mosques, temples and Caribbean events to encourage applications. They are an opportunity to speak with members of minority groups, address any recruitment concerns they may have, explain the process, and outline how they can enjoy fulfilling police careers.
During the latest recruitment drive we've arranged 20 of these events. Some have been at job centres in the most ethnically-diverse wards in the region, one was at Coventry's largest Sikh gurdwara, and another at a mosque in Balsall Heath. We've also attended a black community event in Lozells, Chinese New Year celebrations and an eastern European ball!
These are in addition to getting our messages out through BME media and groups like the Coventry West Indian Centre and Muslim Women's Network UK.
Why do people from minority communities seem less reluctant to apply for police jobs - what holds them back or deters them?
People who look or feel different do have concerns about how they will fit in. They may be Hijabi women, turbaned men, or young Middle Eastern women who are unsure of their fitness as their culture has never encouraged it.
There are deep-seated issues within BME communities which act as real or perceived barriers to their becoming officers…and these issues are as varied as the communities themselves.
At our Discovery Days we're able to reassure potential candidates and debunk myths. Recently I spoke to a Sikh man who believed he wouldn't be able to apply because his turban would breach uniform standards, while a Muslim man hadn't previously applied as he mistakenly believed he'd be required to shave off his beard.
How successful has Positive Action been in encouraging more BME applicants?
The number of applications from BME groups has notably increased. Last year we saw 941 applications from members of BME communities from a total of 4,186 but this year we've seen more (977) from fewer applications overall (3,202).
That means the percentage of BME applications has increased from 22 per cent to more than 30 per cent - and more of those applicants are progressing through to the latter stages of the recruitment process.
Last year it became apparent that, for a variety of reasons, many of our BME applicants were falling down at early stages of the recruitment process, elements like evidencing skills in the application form and phone interview.
So part of our work is also supporting BME applicants and explaining what will be expected of them through the six-stage recruitment process. I've set up a dedicated Facebook page where applicants can ask questions or seek advice.
In the first batch of new PCs that joined police teams last month we had 56 men and 26 women - ageing from 19 to 37-years-old - of which eight are Asian, one is black, five are mixed heritage and one is from eastern Europe.
There is no doubt we need to keep the focus on attracting the very best candidates from our under-represented groups to be more reflective of our communities.
Why is it important that a police force's diversity should be on a par with communities it serves?
Diversity within policing creates representation, legitimacy and credibility.
The public are more likely to trust an organisation which they feel ‘resembles' the community it serves. Police officers from a variety of backgrounds will approach problems differently, creating innovative responses. People who have language skills and cultural awareness will help bring us closer to hard-to-reach communities.
It makes good financial sense too, as when diverse communities feel represented by us and can trust us, we expect better communication and more community intelligence to emerge. This in turn will help us to more effectively target our increasingly limited resources. Diversity works for everyone, not just for BME people.
I think the success of our Positive Action work will shape how WMP looks in 10 or 20 years' time. I am so grateful and proud to have the opportunity to influence our organisational future in this way.
What would you say to people who consider it "positive discrimination"?
We are not using positive discrimination; we expect BME candidates to reach the same standards as white British candidates in order to succeed at each stage of recruitment.
However, embracing diversity is not about treating people the same but treating them according to their individual needs. The needs of ethnic minorities are different from those of the ethnic majority. They have fewer officer role models and mentors available to them; they often have to defy their families and communities to chase their dream of joining the police.
Many young BME people do not even realise this is a career choice which is open to them. So we are using positive action to encourage applications from BME candidates, reassure their communities, support them and de-mystify the process…and we are very proud of this fact!
I think this cartoon illustrates the point better than any words.
What has the feedback been like at the Positive Action events?
Feedback has been incredible. Even from those we inevitably lose along the way, candidates are so grateful for the additional support and clarity they receive through the positive action programme.
It must be a rewarding role?
This is the most rewarding role I have ever done. It allows me to build relationships with communities and with candidates and support them in their journey to appointment. I get to meet so many fantastic new people every day, and be part of their WMP experience.
What other police roles have you been involved with?
Between 2010 and 2013 I worked at ACPO (TAM) - the association of Chief Police Officers (Terrorism & Allied Matters) in Westminster and in Europe. The police love an acronym! My remit was working against female radicalisation and I created Project Shanaz which is a national female counter terrorism network.
It's part of the government's Prevent strategy - designed to steer people away from extremism and extremist ideology. The Shanaz Network is formed of 50 women from diverse backgrounds, races and religions, the idea being that women are at the heart of homes and communities and are best placed to notice behavioural changes in their children - and puts them in a position to safeguard those who are vulnerable to terrorism.
I heard from women who said there was no platform locally or nationally for them to express their views for inclusion in Prevent policy. They felt the agenda was male-dominated and exclusionary, which against a backdrop of increasing female radicalisation (and increased attempts from terror groups to recruit women) was a dangerous position to be in.
That's what drove my idea for the Shanaz Network.
How did you go about setting it up?
I visited all 43 police force areas of England and Wales, as well as Scotland, to research and speak to the most influential women in diverse communities. The mission was named Project Shanaz after my late mother, Shanaz Bano. She was a first-generation immigrant from Pakistan and a dynamic force for good in her British community, so she symbolised what the project was trying to achieve.
I then created a national guidance document showcasing ideas and projects which had worked in different corners of the country. It was shared with all police forces - and they in turn had to report back regularly on what they were doing to involve women with Prevent work.
Fifty of the women I'd been introduced to were selected to form the Shanaz Network…the first national all-female counter-terrorism network in the world. This was a video message (only a few minutes long) which the Home Secretary sent for our launch:
How successful has the Network been?
The women have represented the Network in Westminster and abroad to deliver our message. Intelligence submissions from communities went up and the women have helped devise solutions to community issues.
The new initiatives are helping young people across the country. For example, one young woman who was in danger of being inspired by an Al-Qaeda supporter in Wales was taken under the protective wing of a local Shanaz representative. They educated her over the Islamic principles the man had been using to try to manipulate her allegiances - and explained how the man was trying to use her for his own twisted terror motives.
Without that intervention, she might have become another Roshanara Choudhry.