Police forces failing to find black officers

SCOTLAND'S thin blue line is getting whiter.

The proportion of black officers in the nation's police forces tumbled last year amid one of the biggest recruitment campaigns in history.

Some senior officers now believe that would-be ethnic minority recruits are being put off joining up by stories of racism in the ranks and claims of "robust" policing of Muslims following the Glasgow Airport bombing.

Forces aspire to have roughly the same demographic make-up of the communities which they police. Just over 2 per cent of Scots are of a black or other minority ethnic (BME) background. No Scottish force, however, has managed to get close to that figure.

Strathclyde Police, the nation's biggest, yesterday admitted just 1.28 per cent of its officers were BME as of 31 March, 2009. That is down from 1.74 per cent a year before. The overall number of such officers fell from 129 to 102.

The vast majority of new recruits funded under the SNP government's drive to boost police numbers by 1,000 over the period of the current parliament have been white.

Insiders said the new recruits had "diluted" the police forces, making them whiter than for some years.

A spokeswoman for SemperScotland, the body that represents black and minority ethnic officers, said at least two of the recent passing-out parades from the national police college had contained no black or minority ethnic recruits.

The low recruitment figures come after complaints, especially from Muslims, about policing in the aftermath of the Glasgow Airport bombings. Pakistani and Afghan groups have protested over the way they are questioned at airports, with Special Branch officers regularly quizzing Asian-looking passengers about their views on Islam and terrorism.

Another insider said: "I blame the Secret Policeman show, the BBC investigation. They exposed locker-room racism and that has made it far harder to convince some people that things have changed, but they have."

Semper's vice-chairman Baseem Akbar, a Scotland-based sergeant in the British Transport Police, yesterday said: "The negative perceptions of the police still exist in some people's minds, unfortunately.

"The Scottish police service has never had targets for the number of BME recruits it gets. Perhaps the time has come for some long-term aspirations for this? We now have a concerted effort to use Muslim officers, for example, under the Prevent part of the anti-terror strategy."

Minority officers, however, have struggled to reach high positions in the police in Scotland. Strathclyde, for example, last year promoted just one officer who was officially listed as BME, accounting for just 0.69 per cent of all promotions. High-profile black senior officers tend to have been transferred to England, Akbar said.

Seven out of Scotland's eight forces were able to say how many black officers they had, bringing a total of 184.

There are just two in Northern, representing 0.29 per cent of the total. The highest figure was Lothian and Borders, which had 43, 1.43 per cent of its total number. Tayside, meanwhile, doubled its BME contingent from seven in 2007 to 15 this year. That still, however, represents just 1.24 per cent of its officers. Central had five black officers, Grampian four and Fife 13. Dumfries and Galloway was unable to provide figures.

Strathclyde Police yesterday said moves by some officers to reclassify their ethnicity in a recent questionnaire may have contributed to the drop. Police forces have become obsessed with the background of their officers in recent years as they try to ensure they represent their communities closely.

Some officers have become tired of regular questionnaires. In Strathclyde, eight, in what is believed to be a sign of protest, officially had themselves recorded as Jedis. The force yesterday stressed that nearly one in 20 had failed to fill in questionnaires on ethnicity.

Councillor Paul Rooney, convener of Strathclyde Police Authority, said: "It is clear that there remains work to be done around recruiting and retaining officers and staff from our minority communities."

Assistant Chief Constable Caroline Scott, the general secretary of the Association of Chief Constables in Scotland, yesterday said: "We have commissioned a short-term working group to look at how we can increase recruitment from all underrepresented groups."