Mathilda Mallinson: This is the first in a three part Media Storm investigation into institutional racism in UK police forces. In it, we will provide statistical evidence of institutional racism at a recruitment level and, with the help of lived experience, diagnose exactly where it is arising and how to fix it. It’s years too late, but it needs to be done. And as far as we can tell, no one – not in the police, not in the government – is doing it.

Helena Wadia: Now, we touched on recruitment bias in our episode on policing eight weeks ago. To any new listeners. Media Storm is a podcast that takes unfolding news stories and re-examines them from the perspective of firsthand lived experience. This season features ex-Far Right radicals, domestic abuse survivors, workers on strike, and yes, police officers. Mathilda, tell us what’s changed since then.

Mathilda Mallinson: Back then, as you pointed out Helena, we already had an early estimation of this discrimination thanks to a preliminary round of FOIs sent to a small sample of forces by a specialist we worked with. This showed Black applicants were 40% more likely to be rejected than White applicants. But as it turns out, it’s an underestimation. It prompted us to send FOIs to every police force in England and Wales.

Helena Wadia: An FOI, or Freedom of Information request, is a request for information recorded by a public authority. It is a right enshrined to the British public since the Freedom of Information Act was passed in 2000, to which authorities must respond within 20 working days.

Mathilda Mallinson: We’ve acquired an unparalleled data resource to examine what’s really going on inside the force, to take the label “institutionally racist”, and ask what that actually means in day-to-day, tangible, fixable terms.

Helena Wadia: Have all the forces supplied data?

Mathilda Mallinson: So several initially declined, saying they don’t properly store the data and it would therefore take too long to retrieve it. I challenge them on that as they’re legally obliged to store that data under the Equality Act. So then some provided it. Nottinghamshire and Wiltshire still declined. But 33 forces have provided the data including The Met, although they took over 100 days to reply. And now we have data for over 180,000 people applying for police forces all over the country. That is the bulk of the UK’s most significant recruitment drive in the past almost half-a-century.

Helena Wadia: So yes, this is a really valuable dataset. And to no one more valuable than the police itself, if they’re serious about self-improvement. Have they not been utilising this data internally?

Mathilda Mallinson: it doesn’t look that way. As far as we can tell, ours is the first attempt to systematically collate that data, let alone analyse it. But sadly, as I said earlier, it is three years too late.

Helena Wadia: I was gonna say these findings come at the end of Police Uplift, a three-year initiative by the Conservative Government to recruit 20,000 new police officers. We haven’t seen a drive like this in generations, and we likely won’t see one again for as long. This was the chance for real change. And any lessons now are a lifetime too late.

Mathilda Mallinson: However, there is one thing that’s different about this new generation of police applicants to any we’ve seen before. And if people take one thing away from this listen, I want it to be this.

Helena Wadia: And why is that?

Mathilda Mallinson: Because while our dataset offers a lot of new learnings, one in particular flies in the face of the accepted knowledge with which we’ve been working. It’s a myth that has been repeated back to me repeatedly by authorities I’ve interviewed for this investigation, the assumption that the problem starts with communities. That people of colour don’t want to be police officers, or are less likely to apply to be police officers, than White people. That that is why our forces don’t represent their communities. But our dataset proves while this may have once been true, it is not anymore. Today, the opposite is true.

Helena Wadia: Okay, so you compared the proportion of each ethnic group as a share of the total applicants to its share of the population at large and found…

Mathilda Mallinson: …and found that over the past three years, ethnic minorities have been statistically more likely to apply for the police force than people of White British ethnicity. Black, Asian, Mixed: all are now slightly over-represented among police candidates, but heavily underrepresented among those actually hired.

Helena Wadia: Which means the disparity is emerging entirely from the selection process, a process which apparently isn’t even up for review. So that’s where we step in.

Mathilda Mallinson: Exactly. Over the next three weeks. We and our listeners will be doing that work for the police. We’ll be sitting down with experts and stakeholders to find out what this tells us about political priorities, where the racism is actually occurring, and how, if at all, to fix it.


Newsreader (clip): Welcome to media storm, the news podcast that starts with the people who are normally asked last

Mathilda Mallinson: I’m Mathilda Mallinson:

Helena Wadia: and I’m Helena Wadia.

Mathilda Mallinson: This week’s investigation, ‘An institutionally racist police force: Process of elimination, part one’ September 2019, two months before a general election. Prime Minister Boris Johnson makes an announcement.

Boris Johnson (clip): Today we’re putting another 20,000 officers on three total recruiting 20,000 officers it will take a while to get them all out there.

Mathilda Mallinson: 20,000 new police officers in three years. The policy’s slogan? ‘A force for all’. Or, in the words of the chair of the National Police Chief’s Council, “Today’s recruitment campaign will help us to accelerate our plans to improve diversity in policing”. Recruitment begins in April and then a month later, George Floyd, a black US civilian is murdered by a white police officer. His death sparks a global Black Lives Matter movement against brutal racist policing with protests sweeping across continents. Two weeks after the protests reached the UK, two black sisters, Bibaa Henry and Nicole Smallman, are murdered in London. Their mother accuses the Metropolitan Police of racist neglect. Then two police officers take selfies with the sisters dead bodies and share them on a police Whatsapp group.

Nina Smallman (clip): Those police officers dehumanized our children.

Mathilda Mallinson: Three months after they are sentenced in March 2021. The abduction rape and murder of Sarah abroad by a serving Met officer pressures the force to call an internal report. This report will officially label it:

Newsreader (clip): institutionally racist, misogynistic and discriminatory

Mathilda Mallinson: Project Uplift, Boris’s recruitment scheme, is still running. At this point in time 8700 new officers have been recruited. Government updates tell us the force is more representative than ever before. Black officers make up 1.3% of the force compared to 1.26% the year before. Uplift closes in March 2023. The Black share of officers is still 1.3%, less than a third of its share of the population. Repeatedly we have been told by authorities that police representation is being addressed, that to quote a statement sent to Media Storm by the National Police Chief’s Council: “We have more black ethnic minority and Asian officers than ever before”. In this they point us to the final numbers, the ethnic breakdown of those appointed, but what does that really tell us if we don’t even know who applied? Well, now we do. And it’s not a pretty picture. Discrimination is clear with Black and minority ethnic applicants as a whole facing 45% Higher deselection rates than White applicants. And get this, Black applicants fared the worst, with a 60% higher rejection rate. Those of Asian ethnicity were 51% more likely, and of mixed ethnicity 33% more likely to be rejected than White applicants.

Dr Pete Jones: Hi, I’m Pete Jones. I’m a chartered psychologist. I work for Shire Professional chartered psychologists.

Mathilda Mallinson: Earlier this year while researching for Media Storm’s third season, I found a Dr Pete Jones tweeting religiously about intricate details of policing structures from a small office in Sheffield. As far as I could tell, @fatwhitebloke, Pete’s chosen Twitter handle, had found quite a straightforward way to prove or disprove institutional racism. But no one was paying him any attention. For almost a decade, Pete has tried to alert police forces directly to this discrepancy, even working in their employment as a recruitment bias specialist. So we’re going to talk today about the data that you and I have worked together to uncover about bias in police recruitment. Can you tell us why did you first pinpoint this issue and decide to investigate it more closely in the first place?

Dr Pete Jones: I’ve been monitoring the processes at the College of policing probably for about eight or nine years. And then of course when Police Uplift came, I started to think that perhaps this was an opportunity of a generation. So I was monitoring reports coming quarterly out of the Uplift program, which was showing very, very marginal increases in the representation of Black and minority ethnic officers, fractions of 1%. I worked out that before we got to the point of representation, ie, we represented the communities that we served, it was going to probably be two or three generations at this rate.

Mathilda Mallinson: Presumably, it would take two to three generations, if we were to continue recruiting 1000s of new officers at the same rate, which we’re not going to do?

Dr Pete Jones: Exactly, it was always going to be a failure in that regard. But the other issue, and this is why I started to look at this data in more detail, was that the data that came on the uplift report was just the outcome, which was how many Black and minority ethnic people were being offered positions. What it wasn’t telling us was, well, how many people applied to be police officers, and how many of those people ended up being appointed?

Mathilda Mallinson: So let’s talk about the process that we went through to get that data, it was quite difficult. Some police forces actually refused to provide the data requested, as they said that they didn’t collect the data systematically enough.

Dr Pete Jones: The fact that they don’t gather the data says something in the first place. I find it astounding that when they’re making all these efforts and noise to try and recruit a representative police force, they don’t actually know who’s applying to them.

Mathilda Mallinson: Some of the forces only were able to provide ethnicity data in the category B A M E, so conflating all different minority ethnic groups together. But the calculations that we’ve done actually show a really big difference in the discrimination faced by those different groups.

Dr Pete Jones: Yeah, and it’s not just the B A M E categories. Even within a community, like the Asian community, you see differential pass rates between, for example, people whose background is Pakistani, Bangladeshi, versus those whose is Indian, you know, between, for example, people who are Black African versus Black Caribbean, they’re very different communities with very different issues. And it’s really difficult to get understanding if you’re not actually looking at the data in that kind of detail. But there was a consistent pattern, where almost every minority ethnic community did significantly more poorly than the white community.

Mathilda Mallinson: Given that we are being told a lot now by representatives of different police forces, that tackling institutional racism is a priority. Why did we have to do this? Why were police forces not already doing it? Does that show that it actually isn’t a priority in reality?

Dr Pete Jones: That’s absolutely right. When you know you’ve got a problem, and you don’t even try to understand it or to fix it, that’s the pretty much the definition of institutional racism. If anybody had monitored results of what was happening during Police Uplift, somebody should have said: Stop, we can’t continue doing this. They should have known, probably within months of the three-year project starting, that they had a problem with the Recruit Assessment Centre nationally and more so at a local level. Somebody should have pulled the plug.

Mathilda Mallinson: Do you think that they were completely unaware of that happening? And that’s why they didn’t pull the plug? Or do you think that they just thought no one will ever really look into it? And no one will ever really find out?

Dr Pete Jones: I think there’s a bit of both. And I really, I think local police forces felt fairly secure that they were not going to be asked for the data. But I don’t think they actually knew about what they could do with that data. It is literally a complete blind spot for them.

Mathilda Mallinson: Can I also get your reaction to one calculation I did, which definitely does not feed into the myth that minority ethnic groups are less likely to apply for the police force. The numbers actually show they may be slightly more likely. Are you surprised by that?

Dr Pete Jones: I’m surprised by it. Because I’ve always said, I can’t understand why Black minority ethnic communities in this country have been so patient with policing. Every time we say you know, be the solution, you know, don’t just snipe from the sidelines, be the solution, they do step up. And then our processes turn them down. The system is geared up to fail them.

Let’s take a break.

Mathilda Mallinson: Media Stormers, remember Chris Donaldson?

Chris Donaldson: I’m a retired police inspector did 30 years in the marketplace, and retired in 2013.

Mathilda Mallinson: He spoke in our policing episode at the start of the season about his lived experience as a Black police officer in the Met. He’d signed up to the force despite feared family resistance. So I asked him what made him want to join, to help us understand The pull factors influencing many, and especially as it seems today, many ethnic minorities, to sign up.

Chris Donaldson: One of the chaps at the Rugby Club realised I was… confused I think is the best word, I mean, I was in sixth form and haven’t got a clue what I’m gonna do. And he said, “Why don’t you consider being a police officer?” And it was like a lightning bolt really, because I’d never thought about it. However, when I looked at it in detail, it ticked all the boxes for me. I quite often don’t know what I want, but I know what I don’t want. And one of the things I didn’t want was to sit in an office, I wanted a challenge daily, I wanted to use my physical strength, and my brain on a daily basis, and it just ticked all the boxes. The same things that attract white kids should attract Black kids. It was my first job interview as a 19 year old then I never looked back.

Mathilda Mallinson: Has that career fulfilled all your expectations?

Chris Donaldson: And more, much more, much more than I’d ever imagined. Adventure, friendships, travel. Financially, it was rewarding, because I’d invested in the pension on day one, we were made to. And it was the best bit of paper ever signed, because it was a pension that I invested in 11% of my wages for 30 years, and now I can live comfortably. So yeah, it fulfilled everything and more. I mean, I became an advanced driver, I became a firearms advanced shots. I became a public order commander and negotiator, experiences I would never have had if I didn’t join the police. If you’re a young kid, and thinking of an exciting experience, I would join the police. I don’t care what color you are. Think about yourself, and I guarantee you will not be disappointed. It’s a job that I would, if I was 19, I would start again today.

Mathilda Mallinson: But was that not hampererd by experiences of internal racism, I mean, did you experience any internal racism?

Chris Donaldson: Far less than I experienced outside from the public. Some hurty words now and again, and some of it was inappropriate. But I went to boy’s schools, I played rugby from the age of 12. I grew up in a very male environment where that is very common. I’m not saying it’s right, but it’s very common. So anyway, I didn’t even lose sleep over anything that happened in the canteen to me, you know, or any words that were said to me. I’m not saying everyone would have that experience or should have that experience. So yeah, it was wrong, but if I thought the police force was gonna be easy, I would never have joined.

Mathilda Mallinson: Chris went on to co-found the National Black Police Association in 1998. Which brings us on to our next guest.

Andy George: My name is Andy George, and I’m the president of the National Black Police Association.

Mathilda Mallinson: Andy tells me his experiences as an ethnic minority were a fundamental part of why he wanted to join the police.

Andy George: I grew up in Northern Ireland. Being the only person of colour in the room, I suppose I had to deal with a lot of bullying, a lot of racism. Being the oldest in the family, I had to kind of protect my brothers and sisters a little bit more. Going through that, I was always somebody that stood up for others. And that’s what probably drove me into policing. I did get racism both in the training centre from the training sergeant, where chocolate body paint was put on a doll on a Christmas night out. I was also told that I should be really good at darts because of my spear-throwing days. It’s been rewarding, at the same time, ’cause while you’ve had to deal with racism both from the public and from your own colleagues at times, I’ve also felt very much part of the team. So it’s been almost like a double-edged sword.

Mathilda Mallinson: At first he stayed away from the Black Police Association, but more severe experiences of internal racism, experiences that culminated in a tribunal, drove him to sign up in 2016. Four years later, he became its president. Could you just tell us a little bit about what the National Black Police Association is and does?

Andy George: The National Black Police Association is an umbrella organisation of in and around 50 local associations, which represent Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic officers and staff members within policing.

Mathilda Mallinson: And how does that body interact with, for example, the College of policing, the National Police Chief’s Council, the Home Office, what’s your relationship like with them?

Andy George: Yeah. So as president of the National Black Police Association, I usually meet all of those key stakeholders. I usually have quarterly meetings with the Home Secretary althogh I haven’t had the opportunity to meet this one yet.

Mathilda Mallinson: We’re here today to talk about this data that we’ve collected across police forces in England and Wales that shows quite a stark disparity in recruitment success rates for different ethnic groups. What is your reaction to these findings?

Andy George: The worst bit is I’m probably not that shocked or surprised. It’s something that we’ve been pushing on with the Police Uplift program about how we can get more people from ethnic minority backgrounds into policing. But it doesn’t just start at the recruitment process. It’s also those that we’re attracting, we do have less people coming forward. But the fact that even when they do come forward and apply, they are less likely to get in, is something that that’s of deep concern to ourselves.

Mathilda Mallinson: Something that is very interesting to me is, you pointed out that outreach is a problem, that we have less people coming forward from certain communities. So I worked out the proportion of each ethnic group as a whole among the applicants and compared this to their proportional representation among the population at large. And it actually seemed that with the Uplift applicants, we didn’t have disproportionately fewer from minority ethnic communities, they were actually very accurately represented with a slight skew towards being overly represented. So if anything, there were fewer White people coming through. I wonder whether this surprises you and whether you think that this idea that one of the problems with representation is that people from these communities just don’t want to be part of the police force, whether that is actually a dated idea at this stage in the game?

Andy George: The fact that you’re kind of the first person to put that to me, even though we’ve worked with the Uplift plan, I think shows that policing doesn’t always look in the right areas. There has been a lot of focus in the last three years and doing some of that outreach work may have paid dividends. But I definitely think it’s a dated idea that people don’t want to come forward. I think that’s sometimes the issue with the College of Policing, it doesn’t always move on with what the actual data tells us. It’s something that we can certainly take back and make sure that’s fed into some of that decision making.

Mathilda Mallinson: You said that you were aware during Uplift that there wasn’t enough being done? Did you try to communicate this and to have this addressed? And what kind of response did you get to that?

Andy George: Yeah, no, we’ve consistently made them aware that we were concerned, we have also worked with local recruitment teams to try to figure out where the issues are. But once people get in, that discrimination continues, you know, even those that do make it through. Regulation 13 notices, which are under-performance for probationers: there’s a lot of evidence around them disproportionately impacting Black, Asian, Minority Ethnic officers. Even internally, we’ve supported Chief Inspectors who have moved from one force to the other and failed their vetting. And at times the organisation can almost turn against you to the point where they feel like taking their own lives because it is a dangerous place if you’re a whistleblower. That’s how much it can actually impact people. And that’s why it’s so important that we get this right in the first instance, because it is a once in a lifetime opportunity to really increase the diversity within policing. And I think it’s one that we’ve just missed. We put that across a number of occasions. Obviously, the issue with the National Black Police Association is that we are not a statutory staff association. We’re a staff network. So our ability to really have any power to change these issues was limited.

Mathilda Mallinson: Do you think that one solution that we should be talking about in this conversation, therefore, is the power that the National Black Police Association has to influence processes like this?

Andy George: Yeah, no, definitely. We do not have those that are most impacted by the disproportionality involved in the decision-making process, and also involved in the assessment process as well. And to be fair, in the last three years, the College of policing and National Police each council have been a lot more open and engaging with the National Black Police Association. In the past, we probably would not have been consulted during the process, we would’ve been left until the very end. And that’s gonna impact on what evidence is being put across in these selection processes.

Mathilda Mallinson: Some steps have been taken in the right direction. A spokesperson from the National Police Chief’s council told us that pass rates by the end of uplift had increased by up to 16% for ethnic minorities, and 19% for Black candidates, compared to the beginning of the scheme. They said, quote: “We have worked with forces to build capability and outreach and encourage conversation with those who might have previously discounted policing. We have laid the foundations for fairer selection across our processes. Chief Constables are committed to becoming more representative. We must continue to improve policing for everyone who feels marginalised by policing because of their ethnicity. This is in our best interest, the best interest of the communities we serve, and those who give service as officers, staff and volunteers.” But improvement takes introspection. So next week, join us again, as we pick apart the recruitment process in an attempt to identify where the bias is emerging. And don’t forget our live show at Kings Place, London, on Saturday, the 16th of September. Link is in the show notes. See you there!

Helena Wadia: Follow Media Storm wherever you get your podcasts so that you can get access to new episodes as soon as they drop. If you like what you hear, share this episode with someone and leave us a five star rating and a review. It really helps more people discover the podcast and our aim is to help as many people as possible hear these voices.

Mathilda Mallinson: You can follow us on social media @mathildamall, @helenawadia and follow the show via @mediastormpod. Get in touch and let us know what you’d like us to cover or who you’d like us to speak to. Media Storm is an award-winning podcast produced by Helena Wadia and Mathilda Mallinson. It came from the House of The Guilty Feminist and as part of the Acast Creator Network. The music is by Samfire.