Theresa May’s comments about the lack of diversity in the police service are welcome. The home secretary was right to point out, in her speech at the National Black Police Association (NBPA) conference, that police ranks do not reflect the communities they serve. However, she must also recognise that when she points the finger at the police authorities she points the finger at herself – because as head of the Home Office, she is personally responsible. The public should know what she is doing to hold the Metropolitan police commissioner, Bernard Hogan-Howe, and the other chief constables to account.

At the moment in London, black and minority ethnic (BAME) officers make up 11.7% of the Metropolitan police but 40% of the city’s population. Officer numbers have risen only four percentage points since 2006. They also tend to stay in the lower ranks, which results in a classic “snowy peak” organisation.

The Macpherson inquiry was published in February 1999 and contained recommendations to address diversity performance indicators, setting recruitment, retention and progression targets that were bespoke to the BAME population of each force area. I was chairman of the NBPA at the time, and at an unprecedented chief officers’ conference in April 1999 I worked with Jack Straw, then home secretary, and his deputy, Paul Boateng, to help set these national indicators. Progress was monitored by the Home Office through the Stephen Lawrence steering group, which was chaired by Straw. This ensured diversity was a priority and race was kept on the agenda, by looking at the processes and practices at force level; highlighting good practice and rectifying where BAME officers were being held back or not operating on a level playing field.Unknown-1

Unfortunately, this momentum was greatly reduced when subsequent home secretaries – Charles Clarke, David Blunkett and Jacqui Smith – slowly eroded the potency of, and then completely disbanded, the Stephen Lawrence steering group, and chief officers were increasingly let off the hook from monitoring their own diversity indicators.

At the moment diversity is not seen as a priority, especially since 9/11 and the more recent budget cuts. In fact, chief officers are given carte blanche to monitor progress on recruitment, retention and progression without external scrutiny or sanctions from the Home Office, police and crime commissioners, or the College of Policing. This is like giving chief officers the opportunity to mark their own homework without accountability or transparency. It is no surprise that the police service is no closer to achieving a truly reflective organisation at all ranks.

I call on Theresa May to bring back diversity personal indicators, scrutiny by the Home Office, police and crime commissioners and/or the College of Policing, and sanctions. Chief officers must be held to account.

 This article was amended on 23 October 2015. It originally stated that the number of BAME officers in the Met “had stagnated … for over a decade, due to ethnic minorities being four times more likely to leave the service than their white counterparts”. In fact the rate has risen four percentage points since 2006.

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