The leader of the police chiefs has said that new laws should be introduced to allow police to positively discriminate in favour of minority ethnic candidates, saying that there needs to be a “shock” to the system.
Sara Thornton, who is stepping down as the chair of the National Police Chiefs’ Council after 33 years of service, said that current progress to improve minority ethnic representation is “too slow”.
In an interview to mark the 20th anniversary of the report into the death of black teenager Stephen Lawrence, Ms Thornton told the Guardian that forces were making improvements but it would take a “long time” to reach their targets.
Since 1999 police have been trying to get the proportion of officers from ethnic minorities to match the proportion in the populations they serve, but not one of the 43 forces in England and Wales has achieved it.
It is estimated that it will take until 2052 at the earliest before that happens, and even longer if minority ethnic populations continue to grow.
Sara Thornton when she was Chief Constable of Britain's Thames Valley police. Image: AFP Photo/ Max Nash/Getty.
Ms Thornton described the current situation as "unlawful".
She added: "If you want to do something to give a shock to the system and say we can’t wait to 2052, I think we need to do something different.
“It is a political judgment, isn’t it? How important is this? If it’s important, then I think you need to look at a different approach.”
She added: “I think there’s an argument that we could select on merit and put people into a pool [of recruits] and then appoint on representation.”
Stephen Lawrence, 18, was murdered by a white gang at a south-east Londonn bus stop in 1993 and the Macpherson report found police incompetence and prejudice, which he described as “institutional racism”, which contributed to the killers escaping justice.
Ms Thornton said that she did not like the phrase “institutional racism” but that she feels there is “unconscious bias” within policing leading to fewer minority ethnic officers being promoted.
“If we like ourselves, we prefer people who are like ourselves, because we understand them and they are familiar. People who aren’t like ourselves, sometimes we feel less comfortable with. What are those stereotypes we sometimes just fall into?” She added that unconscious bias training has been introduced to tackle this.