Police Scotland is set to introduce a hijab as part of its uniform to encourage more Muslim women into the force and address the under-representation of officers from ethnic minority backgrounds.
Figures show there were just 127 applications from black and Asian candidates in 2015/16 – 2.6 per cent of the total number of people applying for a job with the national force.
Anything that can help increase diversity within the service is surely to be welcomedBrian Docherty
In a briefing to the Scottish Police Authority (SPA), Police Scotland said it would need to recruit an additional 650 ethnic minority candidates to reflect the 4 per cent of those from black and Asian backgrounds in society as a whole, something it described as currently “unachievable”.
In a bid to increase female Muslim officers, a headscarf has been “sourced and tested” and will be presented to a uniform standards working group for consideration.
The hijab is a headscarf which covers the head and neck, but not the face.
While there is no ban on female officers wearing headscarves, those wanting to do so must get permission from their line manager.
It is understood no such authorisation will be required for those wanting to wear the new standard issue hijab.
Peter Blair, head of resource management at the force, said: “Police Scotland is committed to working with communities to encourage under-represented groups to consider policing as a career.
“Part of this involves removing unnecessary barriers, which include considerations about the officers’ uniform. As a result, work has been undertaken to source a uniform hijab. Such a hijab is worn by many officers in police forces in England and across the world and Police Scotland is keen to replicate this good practice.”
Appearing before MPs at the home affairs select committee last month, Chief Constable Phil Gormley said his force had “diversity challenges” which included increasing the number of black and Asian officers and the number of women in senior posts.
While just 4 per cent of the Scottish population comes from a black or Asian background, the figure rises to 12 per cent in Glasgow and 8 per cent in Edinburgh.
Police Scotland is now embarking on a series of initiatives in a bid to improve the force’s diversity, but has warned against “quick fixes”.
It has used outreach events and worked on a questionnaire with the Scottish Police Muslim Association (SPMA) to gauge perceptions and concerns about policing.
Fahad Bashir, chair of the SPMA, said the creation of a Police Scotland hijab was a “step in the right direction”.
He said: “It’s not just about the hijab, but any religious headwear. It’s a productive thing on behalf of Police Scotland to make the organisation be seen to be inclusive.
“From SPMA’s point of view, we’re fully supportive.
“Under-representation is an issue Police Scotland is trying to address. I couldn’t give you a definitive answer as to why it’s an issue. It’s not just the Muslim community, but in different communities across Scotland there will be cultural barriers to joining certain organisations. But we’re looking to see how we can break down those barriers.”
Brian Docherty, chairman of the Scottish Police Federation, added: “Anything that can help increase diversity within the service is surely to be welcomed and I don’t see why anyone would have any problem with that.”
Asked about the importance of having a police force which represents the population it serves, he said: “I think there’s a balance to be struck because you need to make sure, first of all, that the people are fit and able to do the job.
“We’ve seen things like the age bands increase and the [required] heights dropping a little bit. Over the years, the job has moved with the population and that’s what we need to be doing to make sure we have the right people.”
Figures obtained last year by the Liberal Democrats using Freedom of Information legislation showed there were 175 officers who identify as black, Asian or minority ethnic (Bame) among the 17,000-strong force.
The Lib Dems described the figures as “appalling” and said it was time for immediate action.
It followed a submission to the Scottish Parliament’s equal opportunities committee from the SPF, a staff association, which said Police Scotland was merely paying “lip service” to the issue of ethnic minority recruitment.