PCC Blog: 11

‘Slow down the opening of bars.’

This is what the governor of Texas believes they should have done but didn’t. They opened the bars too precipitately, the virus re-established itself and they now face a second wave and a second lock-down.

Yet this is a lesson we have not learnt and to compound matters, the pubs are going to open at a weekend and not on a weekday.

For the police, the old ‘normal’ Saturday in summer presented problems enough with inebriated and excitable people spilling out into the streets in large numbers in urban centres. But add to that the need for social distancing and the policing task looks formidable. They will, of course, rise to the challenge, but by allowing the re-opening on Saturday and not mid-week – when people have to work the following day – the government seems reckless.

One can only wonder whose ‘scientific’ advice that was based on.

Diversity

We need a police force that is as representative as possible of the communities it serves.  This is why everyone speaks about ‘diversity’.

But I wonder what comes into your head when you hear that word ‘diversity’? In the wake of all that we have seen in the United States since George Floyd died, and the protests that have followed over here, we would probably think that this was about the need for South Yorkshire Police (SYP) to increase the number of BAME officers and mirror the ethnic diversity of the county.

That is, of course, very important. At the moment, the statistics that we rely on are all a little dated, though some are more dated than others. As a result, we finish up comparing the ethnic composition of SYP as it was in 2019 with the ethnic composition of South Yorkshire as it was in the 2011 national census, now ten years out of date. The statistics look like this:

                                 BAME                          BAME

% of force                   % of population

2019                           2011

 

South Yorkshire         4.8                              11.9

———————————————————————————-

London (Met)              15                                40

West Midlands            11                                30

Beds                             10                                23

 BAME % of force
2019
BAME % of population
2011
South Yorkshire4.811.9
London (Met)1540
West Midlands1130
Beds 1023

As the Deputy Chief Constable pointed out at a recent Public Accountability Board, while some other forces might have a higher percentage of BAME officers, they still might not be as representative of their populations. If we are to understand more accurately what the position is, we need up-to-date statistics for both SYP and the general population.

But diversity can be measured in other ways too. What about gender? What about disability? What about sexual orientation? What about religion or no religion? What about the communities officers actually live in or come from?

As far as gender goes, the number of women in the force has been rising steadily year by year. It is now more than a third, with some women officers in very senior posts, including those of Assistant Chief Constable and Chief Superintendent.

When you think of all the ways in which we might ask the force to be diverse and represent the communities it serves, we can’t just think about ethnicity, important though that is. Nor can we reasonably expect it to have a precise match against all these different diversities.

Statue toppling: a footnote

I used to live in Bristol, not far from the statue of Edward Colston (1636-1721), the slave trader, which was unceremoniously dumped into the river by Black Lives Matter protestors a week or two ago. Everyone in Bristol knew about Colston, how he made his fortune and what he did with some of the money. His name is everywhere: Colston Street, Colston Avenue, Colston Hall, Colston School, Colston’s Almshouses. Bristolians passing his statue would all know where the money came from as well as his charitable bequests. And, knowing this, they would read what it says on his plinth about his generosity with a wry smile.  (The same is true in other former slave ports, like Liverpool and Whitehaven in Cumbria.)

But there is another statue in Bristol that also commemorates a figure from the days of Empire – Ram Mohan Roy (1772-1833). This is in a very prominent place on College Green. Roy was an Indian, a subject of British Crown in British India. He is remembered because he was a vocal and early advocate of empirical science and various liberal reforms.  He argued for freedom of speech and religion; he condemned the caste system and the practice of ‘suttee’ – burning women when their husbands died. He is known as the ‘Father of India’ and is commemorated in Bristol because he was welcomed there when he came to Britain. He is, in fact, buried there and has an impressive mausoleum.

Now that Colston has been toppled, we are left with this extraordinary paradox. The statue that reminded people in Bristol of the shame of Empire has gone, leaving the statue that reminds us of the emergence of liberal values in India. If we are not careful, our urban iconoclasm will leave us with false memories as we keep the bits of the past of which we approve and airbrush out the criminal record.

Ah, the law of unintended consequences.

I hope you are staying safe and well.