The problems with race in UK policing: Part 2

16 July 2020

As a firm, we have had many discussions about Black Lives Matter and how we can make a difference to the movement. In the fifth blog in our series, Tom looks at whether a lack of diversity is really that important in the  police  and how bringing greater diversity to the police will make meaningful strides towards a police workforce that is free of racial bias and discrimination.  In case you missed it, this is part two of this blog. You can view part one here.


Why does policing need diversity?

Is a lack of diversity really that important? Does it matter whether an officer is White or Black when their job is to impartially enforce the law and protect the public? Sir Robert Peel founded the Metropolitan Police in 1829 and set out his ‘Principles of Law Enforcement’. These principles form the constitutional basis of ‘policing by consent’ in the UK, distinct from ‘law enforcement’ as it exists in the USA, for example. Peel’s connections to the slave trade through his father are problematic and are worthy of a separate discussion, but this does not tarnish the significance of his principles. Returning to these principles helps to explain why a lack of police diversity creates a lack of police legitimacy, making the police less effective. Principles 2 and 7 are most relevant here.

2. The ability of the police to perform their duties is dependent upon public approval of police existence, actions, behavior (sic) and the ability of the police to secure and maintain public respect.

7. The police at all times should maintain a relationship with the public that gives reality to the historic tradition that the police are the public and the public are the police; the police are the only members of the public who are paid to give full-time attention to duties which are incumbent on every citizen in the intent of the community welfare.

A 2004 study in Indianapolis (Indiana) and St. Petersburg (Florida) in the USA found that, of police officers working in predominantly Black neighbourhoods, Black officers were more likely than White officers to provide information, referrals to other agencies, and to treat residents respectfully. Various studies have shown that people are more likely to assist the police with tackling crime in their neighbourhood if they perceive the police to be legitimate. These findings have been echoed by the President of the UK’s National Black Police Association, Tola Munro, who has suggested that a lack of diversity makes policing less effective, by hindering true police community engagement, reducing information flows, encouraging distrust and lowering confidence in the police to reduce crime and keep people safe.

What can I do about these issues?

Bringing greater diversity to the police will make meaningful strides towards a police workforce that is free of racial bias and discrimination. Here are some things you can do to help achieve this:

  • Acknowledge your own racial bias, conscious and unconscious, rather than simply standing in judgment on high-profile events and making virtue signalling statements. That means acknowledging your links to the past, being honest about your biases and interrogating your prejudices to recalibrate the effect they have on your decision making.
  • Acknowledge the racism and brutality that has existed within the police and educate yourself on the events and individuals in this narrative. Those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it. Suggestions of places to start: the killing of Mark Duggan and the London riots in 2011, the murder of Stephen Lawrence in 1993 and the MacPherson Report in 1999, the killing of Cynthia Jarrett in 1985 and the Broadwater Farm riots that ensued; the wrongful convictions of the Oval Four in 1972, the killing of David Oluwale in 1969 (the last time a police officer was successfully prosecuted for a death in custody in the UK). There are many others.
  • If you work in police recruitment, police forces need to remove stages from their recruitment assessment process that disadvantage BAME applicants.
  • If you work in a police force, police officers and civilian staff at all ranks need to make sure they continue to support BAME employees. For example, BYP Network has written an article here with eight things corporations can do to support their Black employees.
  • Demand reform by engaging directly with the police. Apply to work for or volunteer with your local police force, join a stop-and-search community monitoring group and attend neighbourhood watch meetings. Mentor and encourage friends and family, particularly from BAME communities, to do the same.

Be a voice for change.


This is a two part blog and please click here to read the first part.

our Black Lives Matter / Bame Blog series

As a firm, we have had many discussions about Black Lives Matter and how we can make a difference to the movement. We wanted to do more than just put out a statement of support, we wanted to take substantive action to address the inequalities faced by Black people and other ethnic minorities. Over the coming weeks, we will be publishing a series of blogs from our varying practice areas highlighting what we are doing, how you can make a difference and shining a light on the issues.

Our Diversity and Inclusion group is working hard with Human Resources and the Management Team to effect change through methods such as training and reviewing recruitment practices.  We have implemented a lot of change but we recognise we have more to do and we are always looking to make improvements as a firm.  We all have respective roles to play in advocating for issues of inequality and we hope our blogs give you some inspiration as to how you can make a change.


About the author

Tom Surr is the Head Paralegal in the Criminal Litigation Department of Kingsley Napley. He is a former police officer, having served in the Met Police for just over two years as the Dedicated Ward Officer for the ward of Kilburn in North-West London.

He left the police to pursue a career in law, working briefly in the Crown Prosecution Service’s Extradition Unit as a paralegal before joining Kingsley Napley. He is passionate about police reform and improving society’s understanding of policing and police officers.


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