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Diversity in policing 2023: Do constabularies truly represent the communities they serve?

Diversity in policing has long been a topic of conversation, and one that has been high on the agenda at a national level for some time. While some of the figures show encouraging steps forward, there’s no denying that there’s still some way to go to ensure everyone feels represented by their local force.

By Elena Carruthers. Published 10 May 2023. Last updated 29 September 2023.

To get a clearer idea of the state of play when it comes to diversity in policing in 2023, and what this means for police/community relationships, we launched a significant piece of research this year.

Our insights explore the number of people from underrepresented groups in local and regional forces nationwide, how many of these individuals are in senior roles, and how much members of the public really see themselves represented by those in charge of protecting them.

What we found is that there is a significant feeling of underrepresentation amongst minority groups, particularly those from mixed or multiple ethnic groups and those who identify as lesbian, gay or bisexual. Consequently, the feeling of not being represented is leading these communities to develop a strained relationship with their local constabulary.

Here, Dr John Kerr, our Head of Policing and Criminology, along with Patrick Johnson, our Director of Equality and Inclusion, explore what these findings mean.

Do people feel represented by their local police force?

Nationwide, around 65% of people agreed that they feel seen and represented within their local police force. A positive figure on the surface level, however, it leaves a significant gap for those who disagree. One in ten people disagreed when asked if they see themselves represented within their local force.

These figures start to speak volumes when we look at how this lack of representation could be harming relationships with officers. Nationally, one in five (20.6%) said a lack of representation had a negative impact while 13.6% said it had a “very negative” impact – that's more than one in three people who will struggle to foster a positive relationship with police as they don’t see people like themselves in their constabulary.

Significant shifts in Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic communities

The relationship between police and those from Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic (BAME) communities worldwide could be described as fraught at best. Here in the UK, significant work is being carried out to build positive conversations on this topic, however, our datasuggests that there is still some way to go.

According to our survey, 18% of those from Black backgrounds disagree when asked if they feel represented by their force, while almost one in four (24.4%) people from mixed or multiple ethnic backgrounds said the same – almost double the national average.

When analysing this against data provided through Freedom of Information Requests, the numbers may not be all that surprising. Some forces across the country reported as little as 0.6% of Constables, PCSOs or Senior Officers as being from BAME backgrounds.

Lowest percentages of BAME representation:


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%

Patrick Johnson comments: “Where possible, forces at a local and regional level should prioritise making sure their officers truly reflect the communities they serve. We can see from our research that more than a third (34.8%) of people who don’t see themselves represented by their force say it leads to a negative relationship. Among black communities this increases to 36% and even further to 50% among those from mixed or multiple ethnic groups.”

Representation among the LGBTQ+ community

Our data also reveals a feeling of underrepresentation among those from those in the LGBTQ+ community. Within these groups, 28.4% say they don’t feel represented by their constabulary, with one in three (33%) saying this has a negative impact on their relationship with the police.

Dr.John Kerr comments: “Unfortunately, what these findings show is further proof that certain groups in society just aren’t seeing themselves represented by their force. There are many complex layers to carefully consider when discussing representation in the police force, meaning we can’t draw solid conclusions from any one piece of research. However, we know for certain that there is a deep-rooted mistrust of the police among various marginalised communities, which is no doubt impacting recruitment and representation.”

Lowest percentages of LGBTQ+ representation:


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%

Gender and gender identity in policing

Given the way gender identity is recorded across police forces, it isn’t possible to gather a clear picture of what transgender representation looks like (which in itself, is most likely another area thatneeds improvement).

However, our data does show that for the most part, women do see themselves represented by their local force to the same extent as men.

Even amongst constabularies reporting the lowest number of female officers or senior officers, the figure doesn’t drop below 19%. One constabulary reported 43% of its officers are women while another reported that 36% of its senior officers are women. By no means are these figures perfect, but it demonstrates an ability to diversify the police workforce when the effort is made to do so.

Lowest percentage of females:


Senior officers (Sgt upwards)

Dorset – 19.5%

Kent – 19.2%

City of London – 23.77%

Humberside – 21%

Lincolnshire – 26.54%

Leicestershire – 23.7%

Gwent – 27.81

Hertfordshire – 24.3%

Avon and Somerset – 26.8%

City of London – 24.4%

Patrick comments: “These numbers aren’t necessarily cause for celebration, as clearly there are areas where roles are still dominated by men. However, what it does demonstrate is that in its ongoing drive to attract more officers into roles, the police force is able to recruit a more diverse range of talent. This enables officers to better serve the communities they work in. It also bodes well for other underrepresented groups and proves that change is far from impossible.”

What does this mean for modern day policing in the UK?

Patrick adds: “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 in 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.”

Dr John Kerr summarises: “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.”

Learn more about studying our Professional Policing degree.