Charles Ehikioya  We need to really look at what is causing the huge percentage failure among the ethnic minority group. It’s not down to lack of trying, or it’s not down to lack of interest. The numbers that are coming through are not reflective of the numbers that are wanting to participate.

Mathilda Mallinson  Welcome to the second part of Media Storm’s special investigation into racial disparity in police recruitment, where today we’ll be asking: Why are so many Black people being refused entry to policing?

Helena Wadia  You may have seen our findings published in outlets like the Guardian, or regional papers who have called for comments from the worst performing forces. If you’re not caught up, scroll down to last week’s episode where we revealed that Black applicants are 60% more likely to be rejected by police forces than White applicants and all ethnic minorities face discriminatory rejection rates. Why are minority applicants being deselected from the process? Is it all about ethnicity? Or are other factors in play?

Mathilda Mallinson  For example, could there be a combination of different factors such as age, education, language, as well as ethnicity, involved in this pattern?

Helena Wadia  Can this genuinely help us understand discriminatory rejection rates? Or is it just another way to pass responsibility away from institutions and onto minority communities, without actually changing anything?

Mathilda Mallinson  Well, after countless back and forths with the College of Policing and the National Police Chief’s Council, we finally found an NPCC lead who agreed to sit down and offer some real information about what’s going on inside.

Helena Wadia  In the first part of this episode, we’ll hear from her and arguably the leading experts on police recruitment in this country, a man who has gone through the process not just once himself, but 1000s of times with other people as the leading private coach on police recruitment.

Mathilda Mallinson  We’ll then walk through the selection process step by step, as a range of experts help us to identify where and why the disparity is arising.

Helena Wadia  And finally, we’ll hear from lived experience about the common denominator that underpins it all. R-A-C-E: race.


Mathilda Mallinson   Welcome to Media Storm, the news podcast that starts with the people who are normally asked last

Helena Wadia  I’m Helena Wadia

Mathilda Mallinson  and I’m Matilda Mallinson

Helena Wadia  This week’s investigation – Part two: Why are so many black people being rejected from policing?

Brendan O’Brien  Bedfordshire Police: 167 black applicants apply, 3 are accepted. Cambridgeshire Police: 60 apply, 2 are accepted. Dorset Police: 130 apply, one, one out of 130 is accepted. Hampshire and Isle of Wight Police: 244 Black candidates apply, 6 are accepted. Hertfordshire Police: 167 apply, 10 are accepted. The data that you’ve got through an FOI, it’s absolutely shocking.

Mathilda Mallinson  Last week data uncovered by Media Storm revealed Black applicants to UK police forces are 60% more likely to be rejected than White ones. Call it the definition of institutional racism, call it evidence for institutional racism, the institution itself points to multiple factors besides race that could help explain the figures. Former police officer Brendon O’Brien runs a Facebook group of 22,000 current and aspiring police officers. His company BlueLight has coached 15,000 people over 12 years to pass that process, with a success rate of 98%. Compare this to the average success rate we calculated of 17%: I figured if anyone knew where the fallout was happening, this man did. So Brendon, you are pretty familiar with the recruitment process. Before we dive into the ethnicity data, could you just share your overall thoughts of that process and whether it is fit for purpose?

Brendan O’Brien  It’s a complex maze. Every force has a completely different recruitment pathway. Every force seems to want different educational qualifications. Every force seems to have a different take on tattoos. When I joined the police in 1985, it took me seven months to get in. If people get in in seven months now. It’s nothing short of a miracle. I remember one of my clients saying I’ve just been offered the position. It was three years and one month since he applied. He said: I could’ve got a degree in that time.

Mathilda Mallinson  So does that tell us that one of the problems here is a question of resources? Of understaffing or underfunding? And this might explain not just why the process takes so long, but why it remains insufficiently reformed to have rooted out discriminatory levels of selection.

Brendan O’Brien  I suspect that they’re completely overrun. Half the team’s off-sick with stress, and the other half are trying to manage this incredible workload. So I sometimes wonder what importance Chief Officers and Policing and Crime Commissioners and mayors put on recruitment, especially when it comes to the data that you’ve got through an FOI. There’s more than several Chief Constables out there, who should be hanging their heads in absolute shame, because this isn’t a new thing. I’ve had a Chief Superintendent – one of the good guys, and seriously one of the good guys, a guy called Roy Smith from The Metropolitan Police – he was so interested in this that he asked me to put together a lot of qualitative data from individuals who are going through the recruitment process to highlight a lot of the problems. You know, a couple of weeks later, I got a phone call off him and he was deeply embarrassed because he had taken all of this to the heads of recruitment and HR who’d turned around to him and just said, we’re not interested.

Mathilda Mallinson  And in this we can diagnose perhaps another problem, a lack of serious research into why this problem exists in the first place. And I feel your frustration here. Because in trying to answer this question, I’ve come head to head with exactly the same attitudes. The College of Policing’s press office honestly said to me, it wouldn’t be appropriate for them to sit down for an interview because, quote, “this isn’t our area”. And they passed me back to the NPCC, the National Police Chief’s Council, who in turn passed the buck back to them. It’s hard to see how change can happen if no one is taking ownership. The uplift team said that they didn’t recognise my data. The thing is, this isn’t my data. This is their data.

Brendan O’Brien  Why is the National Police Chief’s Council not doing this research? I’ve challenged Chief Constables. Chief Constable Ian Hopkins, it was on Twitter so it was in the public domain. And his answer was, “everyone knows that the assessment centre throws up an adverse impact, but no one knows why”. Now I was expecting the next tweet to be: but I’ve commissioned research on this because it’s really important. But no, It was just like radio silence, nothing.

Mathilda Mallinson  Can we be any more precise? Can we draw any hard conclusions about the various social factors such as education, or second language that could also be contributing to this disparity?

Brendan O’Brien  The thing is, I don’t know. You know, I’ve got ideas. I’ve got thoughts, but it’s not based on research and it’s not based on being able to access research. No one seems to have lifted a finger to do anything about it.

Mathilda Mallinson  This is a problem I’ve confronted time and again in my research. Academics have told me they couldn’t go on record as they didn’t feel equipped to draw solid conclusions, given the thinness and inconsistency of multiple regression data – data that takes into account these multiple factors. And as I let slip in my interview with Brendan, the College of Policing, the National Police Chief’s Council, both press officers refused to give me anything more than a signed off statement. But then a tweet caught my eye. It was posted by Jeanette McCormick, who was the program lead for Police Uplift. She mentioned in the tweet that some multiple regression research had been done. And not only that, but changes implemented. So I reached out and she said to give her a call.

Jeanette McCormick  My name is Jeanette McCormick. I was the program lead for the Police Uplift program, and now I am the strategic lead for the National Police Chief’s Council on workforce.

Mathilda Mallinson  My first question is: during or before uplift, was there any research done to try to understand why pass rates were lower for ethnic minority, and especially Black applicants?

Jeanette McCormick  The College of Policing have done an awful lot of data capture. But if you look specifically at ethnicity, one of the factors that came out was around English as a learned language. So we’ve done some work with Northumbria University, their linguistics department, and what they identified was that there wes changes, for example, that we could make in the way that we phrase the questions, the length of the questions, how we particularly put multi-choice questions. So there are changes that we’ve done with the process as a result of that analysis.

Mathilda Mallinson  Can I just ask when this research was done?

Jeanette McCormick  Late last year.

Mathilda Mallinson  So that’s right towards the end of Uplift. So some people hearing this might say, look, it’s all very well making these changes now, but wouldn’t the best time to have made these changes have been before Uplift, before that recruitment of 20,000 officers, which was a once in a generation opportunity to really change the makeup of the force? What would you respond to that comment?

Jeanette McCormick  If somebody said, could you know wave a magic wand and all this could have been in place, you know, 30 years ago, you know, who wouldn’t want that? Because that’s an absolute priority for the force. But what I would say is, this learning has been incremental. It’s been over time. Hopefully that’ll learning or go forward. And and it’s a foundation for policing. But in terms of future recruitment,

Mathilda Mallinson  What were the other changes made to the assessment process during Uplift?

Jeanette McCormick  I think, you know, if you look at, we we went from a very face to face process to an online process during COVID. And that was by necessity. But what we’ve seen with that is that actually, we’ve narrowed the gap by half in terms of those who have an ethnic minority background and those who are White getting through the process. And I think some of that might be the removing of the face to face elements of it.

Mathilda Mallinson  And if reducing face to face processes help to close that gap, does that not tell us interviewers’ implicit or explicit biases could have been one factor behind the disparity?

Jeanette McCormick  I think there’s two things. So first of all, we’ve recruited a whole new range of assessors that is more representative of community. And I think that’s really, really important. But I also think from a candidate’s perspective, if you come into a room, and you’re Black and all the assessors are White, I think that that sometimes can mean a candidate doesn’t perform as best as they could. Cause and effect is difficult to tell, but it definitely narrowed it.

Mathilda Mallinson  Could you maybe help us to understand some of the obstacles faced understanding this problem and making changes to the standards? I mean, I imagine it’s tricky when you have 43 different forces, each with their own practices and priorities.

Jeanette McCormick  So it’s important to say that I think policing is now standardised the way it recruits. It is now standardised, we’ve got standardised data collection, so we’re able to collect that data, do the analysis better, and understand what those factors are.

Mathilda Mallinson  Is it standardised though? Because I personally had real problems accessing standardised data. I mean, I sent identical Freedom of Information requests to all 43 forces. Some could only provide ethnicity data for the B A M E category as a solid lump. Others had only stored it for 12 months. Some couldn’t provide it at all, they said that it would take too long to collect the data because they didn’t have it documented anywhere.

Jeanette McCormick   There isn’t a national applicant tracking system across policing, people have different ones, different companies. What we do nationally is rather than looking at individual forces, what we do is look at the processes nationally and look at the impacts on them. What I would say is this is not just about, you know, recruitment selection processes. This is about attraction. It’s about encouraging people who’ve seen policing isn’t a career for them to take a look at policing. So I don’t think a process can fix everything is what I’m saying.

Mathilda Mallinson  I noticed you’re pointing to the need to recruit more people from ethnic minority communities. But my data showed that ethnic minorities were over represented among applicants. I don’t know if you’ve been confronted with that information. To me, it indicates the problem might in fact lie with the selection process.

Jeanette McCormick   Yeah, when I when I look at the data, and I look at those that come into the sift, so basically, they’ve applied, they’re eligible, and therefore they’re doing the first stage of the process, it would be underrepresentative based on the 2021 census.

Mathilda Mallinson  Why would your data say something different to the data that I collected from local forces?

Jeanette McCormick  So you may have had applications, but some of those might’ve not be eligible? If residency, criminal records etc, a good proportion of those might not be eligible.

Mathilda Mallinson  Okay. So your centralised data is focused on applicants who have already passed the basic eligibility check?

Jeanette McCormick  Yeah, and that data shows it’s slightly underrepresentative for all ethnic minority groups.

Mathilda Mallinson  But if my data comes before eligibility checks, and is overrepresentative of ethnic minorities, and your data afterwards is underrepresentative, doesn’t that then tell us that there is an initial problem emerging at that eligibility stage?

Jeanette McCormick  There is, there is, there there is. You know, and that, you know, if you look at different public sectors health, you can get people who have always lived abroad, whereas we need residency in the UK for a number of years. What we try to do is make sure that our recruitment material is as clear as possible. So people don’t fill their hopes up and find actually that they’re not eligible for whatever reason. But I wouldn’t be complacent at the moment and say, although we’ve made great strides in terms of attraction, we are not attracting a representative number of applications at the moment. There’s more work to do.

Mathilda Mallinson  It appears fallout is emerging from the very beginning of the process. But there are many hurdles along the way. After the break, we’ll zoom in on some of those hurdles, which may be hurting ethnic minorities that discriminatory rates. But you may have sensed a caveat because, as Dr Pete Jones, the psychologist who worked with me on this data points out, while we can hazard a guess…

Dr Pete Jones  …the answer is we don’t know. Because forces don’t gather the data, you know, if they don’t even gather it on a whole basis, they certainly don’t gather it at a stage by stage basis.

Mathilda Mallinson  Coming up, an autopsy of the assessment process. Thanks for sticking around. How do you become a police officer? Prepare for a protracted process with varying levels of local assessments, as well as centralised tests by the National Recruitment Centre. There will be online behavioral tests, fitness tests, medical tests, background tests, interviews, you name it. From the sources we’ve spoken to, three stages stand out as potentially problematic. Step one: basic eligibility. This came up in my interview with Jeanette she said that one tricky requirement was the need to have been resident in the UK for a full three years. Andy George, President of the Black Police Association, offered further insight into this fallout.

Brendan O’Brien  We were picking up in the early stages of Uplift, that basically somebody’s name was an indicator on how bad or well they were going to do in their evidence. For some programs, you needed to have a C at English at GCSE. And for those we had members that we supported, that had master’s degrees in different countries, but whenever they come here, there were being precluded from policing, because they didn’t have a C in English or an equivalent in their host country.

Mathilda Mallinson  The second stage, depending on which force you’re applying to is often interviews.

Brendan O’Brien  Whenever it comes down to that selection process and any interviews online, the fact that you can see and hear who that person is, and you can form your own bias is a big issue as well. I think training for assessments can be quite difficult, and it’s quite sporadic across policing. I’m an assessor on the fast- track Constable, the inspector program within the College of Policing, and I got two days training to do that, which was quite good training. But whenever I’m in my home force, we get two hours. So you may get some that don’t get any training, that don’t understand how their bias can inform their decision making and and how they can counter that.

Mathilda Mallinson  But we haven’t reached the most problematic part of the process just yet.

Dr Pete Jones  There then comes a number of quite mechanical checks, such as physical fitness tests, medicals, and the one that seems to cause the biggest problems is vetting.

Mathilda Mallinson  Here’s Dr. Pete Jones.

Dr Pete Jones  All the stuff we talk about as the values of policing aas being transparent and inclusive, I don’t see that in the vetting process. From what I’ve seen on the recruit forums, that adversely impacts some communities more than others. So for example, you know, if you’ve come to this country from overseas, it makes it much more difficult for background checks to be carried out. If I’m known to associate with a known criminal, there is a chance that I will be refused. But that could also be people who I associate with when I go to church on a Sunday or at the mosque, which means that some communities are vulnerable to having those kinds of associations, which would disqualify them. But it’s difficult to actually put the finger on exactly what it is because the system itself is so opaque and lacks transparency.

Mathilda Mallinson  Vetting is a vital part of the process, which involves rigorous background checks to determine whether an incoming officer could be vulnerable to corruption and criminality. But as long ago as 2014, research for the Met found Black male applicants failed at far higher rates than others: one in four compared to one in 10. This could partially be explained by disproportionate rates of police contact, and over-policing of Black male individuals, such as we’ve seen with stop and search. Jeanette was open about this problem. But exactly why it occurs appears to remain an investigated.

Jeanette McCormick  More people that are Black fail vetting, we don’t understand why. We see it as well with South Asian females as well. Understanding the impact on certain groups of vetting decisions, is something that still needs to be worked on. But we’ve got to make sure that we don’t bring people into the service that pose a risk.

Mathilda Mallinson  Now I’ve spoken to a number of people off the record who are gutted and confused about having failed their vetting. People who’ve invested years and savings to go back to school and take their GCSEs, to lose 20 kilos, to move across the country to separate themselves from any contacts with criminal records, and then they’re refused with no explanation. I have an account of someone applying, worried that they’d be rejected due to an abusive ex-partner on whom they’d called the police in the first place. Brendon sees similar testimonies all the time on his forum and these paint a picture of an untransparent procedure and one that strikes many as unjust.

Brendan O’Brien  I’ll give you two examples. A biological father who they’ve never met, or met once when they were two or something like that, they have no link with them, no social contact, but they’ve got some kind of criminal background – they’ve failed vetting because of that. Sometimes it’s a association that’s really, really random like the partner’s sister’s boyfriend.

Mathilda Mallinson  But if you actually learn why you failed, you seem to be one of the lucky ones. Here’s a rejection email received by a source from the Met police. It reads: “We regret to inform you that following completion of pre-employment checks, we are unable to progress your application”. It mentions the right to appeal but gives absolutely no clue as to why they were rejected in the first place, leaving them to appeal blindly. The reason my sources wanted to stay off record is because they’re still hopeful they can one day get accepted by moving boroughs and applying to a different force, which points out just how arbitrary the system can be.

Brendan O’Brien  So examples like a cadet who’s in the Metropolitan Police. He fails vetting because he’s been stopped and searched three times I think it was in a two month period. It may not surprise you to hear that he got stopped and searched because he lives in an area where there’s a high Black population, a lot of people who are Black in the population, there’s a lot of police activity in that area. And he just happens to be Black. So he approached a county force, and he passed vetting, sailed through, and he’s now a constable in that force. But the Met lost him. The fact is, if you fail vetting with one force, it doesn’t mean to say you’re going to fail vetting with another force.

Mathilda Mallinson  At a time when police forces have faced scandal after scandal of serving officers committing heinous racist and misogynistic crimes, vetting is more important than ever. But Leroy Logan, founding member of the Black Police Association, and former Media Storm guest told us the true culprits were falling through the cracks.

Leroy Logan  White supremacy is drawn to policing because of the control and power. When you think about the power of a police officer to take someone’s liberty away, just on sometimes you’ve had a bad day, it’s got nothing to do with intelligence got nothing to do with information you’ve received, it’s because you failed the attitude test. Slam on the cuffs. And unfortunately, and it goes back to this 20,000 Uplift, because they did hardly any vetting and hardly any real level, they lowered the minimum standard. A lot of White supremacists are joining the organisation. And that’s one of the reasons why Couzens could get in from another force because there’s hardly any vetting. He could just carry on with what he’s doing. The nature of policing, if you are into the control and power, is an automatic attraction for White supremacists.

Mathilda Mallinson  Perhaps we need to ask what agenda vetting is serving. In Andy’s view, it needs to be redesigned for a new era, because the current priorities are rooted in the past.

Brendan O’Brien  We’re very much in the 70s, 80s and 90s in vetting, which is very much around corruption rather than poor behavior, discriminatory behaviors. The fact that in the 70s and 80s, you had organised crime gangs infiltrating police units and pushing people in, that doesn’t happen as much as it used to. So I think we haven’t really evolved the vetting process. We have some Asian members who got high levels of debt because the eldest Asian male had to take on the debt for the family. That debt was being serviced by the entire family. But whenever it was coming to vetting they were saying it was a high level of debt, so they were open to potential blackmail or attempts of corruption from organised crime gangs. So the level of understanding of minority ethnic communities is something that really needs to be worked on and it really needs to be done in the longer term.

Mathilda Mallinson  The NPCC sent us this statement, improvements to vetting mean all new police officers are vetted to the highest standards and the Uplift program team have supported forces in managing the increased vetting challenge as a result of additional recruitment. We need more officers, but they must be the right people who meet our high standards. Every applicant undergoes a number of pre-employment checks, including vetting, medical and fitness testing. From over 275,000 applicants, less than 47,000 was successful, which shows just how rigorous the recruitment process is and how focus has remained on standards and quality. We can speculate about many factors behind this adverse impact: education, language, networks, all with uncertain grounding in evidence. But there’s one factor we can’t ignore, so apparent is it in the numbers. It’s race.

Charles Ehikioya  Hi, my name is Inspector Charles Ehikioya. I’m the current chair for the Met Black Police Association.

Mathilda Mallinson  Thanks for joining us. You are the Black Police Association’s representative in the Met for recruitment, retention and progression. In this role, what patterns have you witnessed?

Charles Ehikioya  I would say unfair treatment in the area of promotion, progression. Unfair treatment in areas of abuse of the misconduct process, where colleagues find themselves unnecessarily subjected to these things.

Mathilda Mallinson  Well, this is well documented in the recent report on the Met from Baronness Casey, which found that Black officers were over 80% more likely to be subjected to misconduct cases than White officers. To explain this, would you point to a multitude of social demographic factors, or would you simply say, this is racism?

Charles Ehikioya  It is what it is. It has been defined by Sir William Macpherson and hasn’t been denied by Baronness Casey either. And ther’ve been a few other reports and commissions and revelations: IOPCHMICFRS, Lammy Report. And that all points towards the same thing, so there’s nothing else that you can describe it as.

Karen Geddes  I was one of only a handful of Black female officers within the West Midlands Police. I was the first and remain the only Black female promoted to the rank of Superintendent.

Mathilda Mallinson  Meet Karen Geddes. I sent her Media Storm’s findings ahead of a conference she’s organising for Black women in policing.

Karen Geddes  At the end of the program, they were out there celebrating – woop woop – knocking themselves all back. It shows the mentality, the celebration and the fact that they didn’t highlight this and it took an external person to do that. I say this quite openly: I have no doubt if it had been gender-based, somebody would have spotted it.

Mathilda Mallinson  Yeah. So your thoughts on this are actually consistent with the evidence we’ve gathered, which showed that female applicants succeeded at equal, if not slightly higher rates to male applicants. You know, why have the relevant bodies successfully managed to adapt the process for gender parity, but not race parity?

Karen Geddes  Policing is all about network. I think policing is more readily open to helping female in general, but particularly White female, if I’m brutally honest. Because they tend to be in their networks. What they do very well is they hold the ladder for each other.

Mathilda Mallinson  And by “they”, I take it you mean White, or at least primarily White women?

Karen Geddes  Well, not primarily, there are no Chief Constables that are Black female. So what is happening? Are you saying that the Black, Asian, female, whatever colour it is, aren’t good enough?

Mathilda Mallinson  That was actually one of the repeated comments posted when we shared our findings on social media last week, that maybe minorities just aren’t good enough.

Karen Geddes  Yeah, my son at nine years old, eight years old was in school. And a White counterpart came up to him and said, yeah, you know, you’re Black. You’re not good, you can’t learn. And this is my child. And I’m not angry at the child that’s coming from an adult. So this conversation about you’re not good enough exhibits itself outside in society, and sometimes policeing forgets it represents society.

Mathilda Mallinson  The spokesperson from the College of Policing sent us this statement: “Whilst we are proud that policing is the most diverse it has ever been. We recognize that there is more to be done to be a fully inclusive organisation. We are working hard alongside forces to understand all aspects of the recruitment process and how to ensure it is as fair and consistent as possible”. Well, we too at Media Storm are working to understand that. Which is why next week, we’ll be tabling solutions. Perhaps the College of Policing should tune in. See you then.