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New findings reveal the harmful effects of under-representation in UK policing

  • As little as 0.6% of senior police officers are from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) communities in some areas
  • More than one in four people from LGB communities fail to see themselves represented by their local force
  • New findings from The University of Law reveal how under-representation is harming police-community relationships

Almost one in four (24.4%) people from mixed or multiple ethnic backgrounds don’t see themselves represented by their police force[i], while some UK constabularies report as little as 0.6% of BAME officers in senior roles[ii], according to new findings from The University of Law (ULaw).

The data comes from new research by ULaw, using Freedom of Information requests and a national survey to illustrate the current state of representation in local and regional policing for minority groups.

Nationwide, one in ten people (10.7%) disagree when asked if they see themselves represented by their local force. Among those from Black backgrounds this figure increases to 18.3%, while it more than doubles to 24.4% among those from mixed/multiple ethnic groups.

Meanwhile, among those who identify as Lesbian, Gay or Bisexual, 28.4% said they disagree that they see themselves represented.

Looking at data sourced through Freedom of Information requests by ULaw, which breaks down the number of constables and senior officers who come from minority backgrounds, it becomes clear that there is an issue of under-representation in local forces across the country.

Lowest percentages of BAME representation:

Constables/PCSOs

Senior officers (Sgt upwards)

Police Service Northern Ireland - 0.59%

Police Service Northern Ireland - 0.63%

Police Scotland - 1.75%

Gwent - 0.93%

Lincolnshire - 1.95%

Police Scotland - 1.2%

Humberside - 2%

Durham - 1.66%

Durham - 2.09%

Humberside - 1.89%

 

Lowest percentages of LGB representation:

Constables/PCSOs

Senior officers (Sgt upwards)

Lincolnshire - 2.67%

Gloucestershire - 1.64%

Police Service Northern Ireland - 3.18%

Dorset - 1.91%

Dorset - 3.4%

Hampshire - 2.75%

Gloucestershire - 3.54%

Durham - 2.99%

Northumbria - 3.71%

Police Service Northern Ireland - 3.08%

When exploring how these figures affect police relationships with the public, ULaw’s research could paint a worrying picture.

More than one in three people (34.8%) who don’t see themselves represented in their force say this negatively affects their relationship with the police. This figure increases to 36% among Black people and 50% among those from mixed/multiple ethnic groups. What’s more, one in three (33%) people who identify as lesbian, gay or bisexual say a lack of representation is harming their relationship with the police.

As well as ethnicity and sexual orientation, ULaw’s research also explores female representation in the force. The findings show some constabularies reporting up to 43% of officers identifying as female and up to 36% in senior roles. Even among forces reporting the lowest percentages, still one in five officers or senior officers are female[iii].

What does this mean for modern day policing in the UK? Dr John Kerr, Head of Policing and Criminology at ULaw comments: “As it stands currently, there is still significant work to be done to ensure constabularies fully represent the communities they serve.

“This is a complex and nuanced issue, with many societal and contextual issues affecting police recruitment. Because of this, we can’t draw any solid conclusions from any one piece of evidence.

“However, as a starting point we know ongoing education can play a key role in affecting positive change. We’re playing our part in that through our BSc Professional Policing and BA Criminology & Policing degrees, through which we aim to inspire future generations of policing professionals.”

Tackling under-representation in the force is no small task, however. Patrick Johnson, Director of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion at ULaw, shares his insights: “Representation of a police force should always aim to mirror that of the community they serve. However, diversity in the police force is a complex issue, which means we won’t see change happen overnight.

“Improving recruitment practices will certainly help when it comes to diversifying the force, as well as ensuring people from these underrepresented groups are fairly promoted into senior positions. Then of course we need to ensure appropriate training is taking place on issues such as unconscious bias, and putting in the work to make sure workplaces are a safe space for people of all backgrounds.

“From a community perspective, there must be a focus on identifying those areas where people are disengaged with their police force. Only then can the work begin to start building positive relationships.”

To read further findings from ULaw’s research, click here.

[i] Survey carried out by ULaw and TLF in Februarty 2023 with 2,000 UK adults

[ii] According to Freedom of Information requests gathered in February 2023 from UK police constabularies

[iii] Some responses are recorded as prefer not to say meaning the true figure may differ