by Gavin Thomas
President, Police Superintendents’ Association
What were you doing in 1993?
Many of you reading this will have been in your early policing career, gaining experience and starting to progress through the ranks.
However, a good number will not even have joined the service; you may have been in a different job, or still in education.
It’s worth bearing that in mind when we consider that it is now 25 years since the murder of Stephen Lawrence.
Those longer in service understand the murder, and the subsequent Macpherson public inquiry, were landmarks in British policing.
The inquiry shone much-needed light on our practices, culture and leadership, and heralded long-overdue change.
But many officers joining today and in the last few years will not recognise this. That is no fault of theirs: a fair proportion will not even have been born when Stephen was killed.
I believe there is a responsibility on us to ensure the lessons from the brutal, racist murder of an 18-year old and how it was dealt with are not forgotten.
These lessons are as important now as they were then, and I would urge my members to consider starting a conversation with their younger officers about what it meant for policing and still means today.
Horrifyingly, Stephen was murdered simply for being different. This also has as much relevance today as in 1993. We can still witness daily the language and behaviour of antisemitism; Islamophobia; homophobia; or just hate and intolerance for anyone in our society who is in some way ‘different’.
History reminds us that when this hate and intolerance takes hold, some feel it is necessary or even legitimate (in their twisted ideology) to attack and harm others.
The Nazi concentration camps, the genocide in Rwanda, and the massacre in Srebrenica are the most vivid examples of this.
But it still happens today, on a smaller scale but with the same tragic results – such as the actions of Finsbury Park terrorist Darren Osbourne or the killer of MP Jo Cox, Thomas Mair.
From time to time I see comments on social media and elsewhere labelling the service ‘PC PCs’ or asking why the police are ‘obsessed with diversity’.
The answer is that as long as there are communities who are targeted simply for being different; people who are afraid just because of who they are; sections of society who do not feel the police are there for them; or people who feel they would not be welcome in the service; then we still have a job to do.
We must be a service for all communities. I believe we are; but I know there are still too many people who do not feel this way.
Peel’s principles state “the police seek and preserve public favor, not by catering to public opinion, but by constantly demonstrating absolutely impartial service to the law, in complete independence of policy…”
For me, this anniversary is a reminder that policing forgets this at its peril.
I am ensuring my Association plays its part in making sure policing is for all.
We have a dedicated BME representative on our National Executive Committee – Det Supt Bhupinder Rai of Thames Valley Police – to ensure that issues affecting BME officers are considered in all our policy making and decisions.
She is also working on initiatives to help BME officers realise their potential and progress through the service, so that we better reflect our communities. We have representatives for gender and LGBT too.
With the College of Policing, we’ve given training in coaching and mentoring to a quarter of our membership, so they can better support colleagues from under-represented groups in their own forces.
We’re also holding an event in London next month to broaden thinking about difference, focusing on ways to make the service more inclusive.
Inclusion and valuing difference matters. It matters to me personally, to my Association, and it matters to society.
Policing may never reach the point where it fully reflects the whole range of people and communities that it is responsible for keeping safe. But it should never stop trying to. We police by consent, we police with communities, and the more support we have from within those communities the safer everyone will be.
So let’s keep remembering the lessons, and commit to having that conversation with those we lead and work with.