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Blog by Supt Bhupinder ‘Bobbi’ Rai – PSA BAME lead

This is my first blog as the BAME representative for the Police Superintendents’ Association. Whilst I have been performing this role for several years, today is the first time I have written down some of the things that I often think about. My preferred way of communicating about issues of race is to speak face to face, but in these unprecedented times, many of us are changing the way we work.

I am a Thames Valley Police officer and I joined the Force in 1992. I distinctly remember the worries of family and friends at the time. It was difficult to allay those fears, as I was the first person from my family, extended family or friends to do such a thing. Most of those that knew me certainly didn’t think I would be able to cope either with the work or the culture. That did change but it certainly took time.

Personally, I didn’t know if I would enjoy it or even be any good at it. There really weren’t very many officers that looked like me back then! What I did know, is that once I’d left training college, I loved the job. I knew I didn’t look like everyone else on my team, there were very few women and even fewer BAME officers about. I knew many people I worked with had preconceived ideas about my personality, way of life and my capability and knew I would have to work twice as hard as some of my colleagues to be able to progress. However, I also knew I got up each day excited to come to work, as I knew I was making a difference to the communities I was working with. I was proud to be a police officer, to wear the uniform; it was the job for me. 

Don’t get me wrong it wasn’t easy.

The damning findings and recommendations of the MacPherson Inquiry and the phrase ‘institutional racism’ were exceptionally difficult to deal with. Similar to the situation BAME officers find themselves in right now, even back then, I felt like I belonged to two opposing camps. I love being a police officer, but I am also a member of the communities that feel that the police as an organisation continues to fail them. The continuous cycle of race becoming high profile in policing, a flurry of responses, followed by return to business as usual, where very little changes, is wearing. My communities sometimes see me as a traitor to them, joining the other side. My colleagues sometimes see me as the person that should be resolving all race issues in policing. That in itself is a failure, if improvement is the domain of the few BAME officers and staff that exist in the organisation.

My personal belief is that if we want this cycle to end, if we really want lasting change in policing with regards to BAME communities, issues of race must become the priority for all of us in policing, including our partners. Accountability for improvement in this area must exist in the same way as accountability for other policing responsibilities. Every single stage of recruitment, development, progression must be reviewed. Every single process we follow, particularly those that affect retention of BAME officers and staff in policing must be thoroughly and critically reviewed. Every single process that leads to disproportionate impacts on BAME communities must be reviewed. There is no place for defensiveness, we need lasting change. We need a vision of equity in policing and a roadmap with measurable milestones as to how we will get there.

As part of the Police Superintendents’ Association, we are working with those at the highest levels to try and find a way forward. It is encouraging to find that people are prepared to listen and there does seem to be the will to move forward at a senior level. We know the will needs to exist across all levels in policing for it to work, but we have to start somewhere. Policing knows that it must do better. I know that policing can.