Mathilda Mallinson  Welcome to the final part of Media Storm’s special investigation into the government’s Uplift scheme to recruit 20,000 new police officers in three years, which revealed Black applicants were rejected from the force 60% more often than White ones.

Helena Wadia  If you’re not caught up, go back an episode or two and learn how Media Storm uncovered this evidence and questioned what could possibly be causing it. Education gaps, language barriers, or plain old racism?

Mathilda Mallinson  In part one, we laid out evidence of this racial disparity. In part two, we asked why it was happening. And now we’re on to the final installment: it’s time to talk solutions.


Helena Wadia  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 Helen Wadia

Mathilda Mallinson  This week’s investigation – The solutions: undoing an institutionally racist police force.

Karen Geddes  So you’re telling me that the NPCC and the College have refused an interview?

Mathilda Mallinson  Yes, exactly that! I approached the College of Policing, I approached the National Police Chief’s Council, each referred me to the other for answers. The College of Policing – I actually have to quote their email – they said: “It wouldn’t be appropriate for us to be interviewed as this isn’t our area. We are only responsible for setting the standards”. So yeah. Frustrating.

Karen Geddes   They’re making themselves sound so stupid. So they set the standards, the standards haven’t been met, what are they doing about it? Oh, my! Yeah, yeah, I love being a police officer. I enjoyed my time. But sometimes you just want to go: wake up.

Mathilda Mallinson  This is me chatting to Karen Geddes, former West Midlands Police Superintendent, after our interview in the first part of this miniseries.

Karen Geddes   I’m not surprised that the College and NPCC are being so bullish because you found them out. And I think it’s embarrassing that in between the two policing agency, they are exhibiting something like this externally.

Mathilda Mallinson  Since interviewing Karen two and a half weeks ago, I’ve felt a change of tune from some policing authorities. Janette McCormick from the National Police Chief’s Council joined us for an interview last week. And some days later, Media Storm was contacted by the Uplift team who – after having initially disputed the validity of our data – now wants to meet in order to review it. So today, we look at solutions.

Karen Geddes   We really appreciate you taking the time to look into this. We’ve been saying this for ages, but without the evidence, we don’t get listened to. So thank you for taking the time to research and do that.

Mathilda Mallinson  While Media Storm’s data found that across England and Wales police forces were 45% more likely to reject ethnic minority applicants than White ones, some local forces fared better than others. Top of the leaderboard was Dyfed-Powys in the far west of Wales. So we thought they might have some pointers.

Karyn Howells  My name is Karyn Howells, I’m the force lead for recruitment, selection and apprenticeships within Dyfed-Powys Police.

Nia Rees  Hi, my name is Nia Rees and I’m the positive action officer here for Dyfed-Powys police.

Mathilda Mallinson  Two core themes came up in this interview, themes I’ve found have come to dominate talk of solutions. One is positive action, so schemes to support or fast track certain people through the selection process. The other is community policing, the idea of rethinking police structures based on grassroots feedback.

Karyn Howells  The positive action that we provide is open to all underrepresented groups. What we do is provide candidates with the information as far as we can, just to give them an awareness of what each stage is going to entail. We advise them of what those tests look like. And we give them some practice examples that have been provided by the College of Policing. For our ethnic minorities, some of them they welcome that communication and that introduction and information on the process, before they make that next step to actually come into a police building.

KMathilda Mallinson  And more widely speaking, what kind of strategies do you use to engage with these minority communities?

Nia Rees   We sort of target universities, schools, colleges. Myself, I’ll go to career events. We do have engagement officers working in our communities, making relations with places of worship and different multicultural support networks and things like that, in different areas of our force.

Mathilda Mallinson  Are there any lessons that other forces can take away from your successes?

Karyn Howells  The other forces have come to us and said: What are you doing that is so great? But I think for Dyfed-Powys, because we are such a small force, we’re talking very low numbers, but in percentage to our overall police officer establishment, it looks higher, because we’re a small force.

Mathilda Mallinson  But so, is there perhaps an indication here of the benefits of smaller forces, and maybe the ability that comes with it, to work at a more localised, intimate level with the community to build a force that serves its needs?

Karyn Howells  Yes, yeah, I think is a lot to do with that personal touch. And we look at ourselves as a family force, so there’s a lot of communication with all candidates during the recruitment process, whereas larger forces may not have that amount of contact with individuals. And with some people, that is what they like, isn’t it? They can build up that rapport and that relationship.

Mathilda Mallinson  My final question is about the importance of this all: why is positive action a priority for your force?

Karyn Howells  I think raising confidence in policing. So for example, we have quite a large Polish community. And we’ve been able to recruit Polish individuals, they can communicate to their own communities, the community see them – from a confidence point of view – are more likely to approach and interact with somebody who’s from their own communities. So it’s really important that we’re able to provide the same level of service to everybody within our communities.

Mathilda Mallinson  But even with positive action, they are still playing catch-up.

Karyn Howells   So what every force is trying to do is be representative of their communities. Obviously, the census is undertaken every 10 years, and the results came out recently from that: ethnicity, the population has risen. So whereas for Dyfed-Powys, we were one of the few forces who were meeting our representation, unfortunately now we’ve fallen back slightly underneath because the census shows that the figures have increased. Obviously, that’s not where we would like to be because it means we’re not representative.

Mathilda Mallinson  Can sufficient change come from inside, through incremental internal reform? Or are more drastic measures in order? Dr Pete Jones, the recruitment specialist and psychologist who worked on this data with Media Storm says positive action is a vital determinant of why some forces’ numbers were better than others.

Dr Pete Jones  It’s all about resources on the positive action side, I think, because although I don’t see that the national recruitment process is fit for purpose, the reality of it is, is that if you can get people to the Assessment Center well-prepared, they tend to pass.

Mathilda Mallinson  But positive action can be cheated.

Dr Pete Jones  So one of the issues we have around the national recruit process, and we’ve had it for some years is that the pass rate for people who go through coaching programs is significantly higher. So companies like BlueLight, who will coach people through the National recruit process, they have miraculous pass rates. Some people can afford that coaching, other people can’t afford it. So there’s a disparity right away. I personally would like to see a coaching package for everybody along the lines of BlueLight.

Mathilda Mallinson  I see the problem. But it’s interesting, because if these services could be put to use by diversity agents within the police to support minorities through that process, then this potential problem could be part of the solution. I might try and talk to the founder of BlueLight.

Dr Pete Jones  Yeah, I think you’ll find Brendan is a vocal antagonist of the of the national process. He often talks about the fact that he could coach his 13 year old daughter to pass it, and he can get AI to pass the National Recruitment Centre. So that shows that, you know, it’s vulnerable to coaching if you like.

Brendan O’Brien  My 11 year old daughter could pass the Assessment Center, and I’ll put money on it, because I can coach her through it. Because it’s so formulaic. It probably favours people that are better connected with the police already.

Mathilda Mallinson  Former police officer, Brendan O’Brien, runs a Facebook group of 22,000 current and aspiring police officers facing the recruitment process. For people who currently have access to the kind of support BlueLight provides, what’s the success rate? And what kind of price tag do you put on that success rate?

Brendan O’Brien  My success rate is enormous. In terms of costs, it depends on the individual. You know, if there was one to one intensive coaching with me, then, you know, there’s a price tag to that, or there’s an online course you can do as well. And there’s a price tag to that. But I’m so confident that what I say to them is if you fail, I’ll give you money back.

Mathilda Mallinson  Wow. And I have to ask, do you get many people of colour coming to you? Or would you say that there’s an imbalance in terms of who is accessing this private coaching?

Brendan O’Brien   I’d say this is probably an imbalance. Yeah.

Mathilda Mallinson  Why do you think that might be?

Brendan O’Brien   So I think it’s close social ties. Because so many of my clients who come to me, come to me after being recommended by someone who’s in the police already. Now, if we think about it, if the police are underrepresented already, then if you’ve got close social ties who’ve just joined, it’s highly likely that they’re going to be White, because the force is disproportionately White.

Mathilda Mallinson  So inequality produces inequality?

Brendan O’Brien  Yeah.

Mathilda Mallinson  Well, thank you. Firstly, for giving me access. Scrolling through the group, I can really see why this Facebook group is a goldmine for anyone hoping to get through the assessment process. And I really feel it could be a good prototype for police forces looking for positive action schemes that are really, really helpful.

Brendan O’Brien   Yeah, what I do is I provide that forum for people to learn from each other and help each other and there’s a lot of people in HR in there, and there’s a lot of senior police officers who will lend their support when they feel as if they need to.

Mathilda Mallinson  Am I right in thinking that some police forces – I believe I was told Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire  – have actually sought your coaching services for minorities as part of their positive action?

Brendan O’Brien  No, they have. Yeah.

Mathilda Mallinson  And how did that work out?

Brendan O’Brien   Brilliantly. Everyone who was put in front of me, just about every one of them, passed.

Mathilda Mallinson  Okay, so from all of this, is it fair to say that one solution police forces could employ is investing in mentorship and support schemes for minority applicants going through the assessment process? Applicants who are currently being rejected at discriminatory rates?

Brendan O’Brien   I think it absolutely could be. But you know, I don’t like it. I’ve only worked with two forces. I’ve had other forces approach me, but I said no to them, because quite frankly, in many ways, what the forces have been asking me to do is: Can you help us get people through a broken system? It doesn’t solve the problem. It just puts a sticking plaster on it. You give me 100 people from minority groups who want to join the police, 90 out of 100 will pass. But it doesn’t achieve anything, all I’m doing is showing people how to play a broken system.

Mathilda Mallinson  Okay. So you, Brendon, are president of the College of Policing for one day. What would you change to fix this, as you call it, broken system?

Brendan O’Brien.  Start all over again. But this time, do it in a way that’s more collaborative. What would the recruitment process be if we did that? Because I know forces at the moment are saying that we need consultative groups, we’re going to do outreach – this and all the rest of it. But when they’re going to people from minority groups they’re probably finding people who love the police already. Do you know where I’d start? I’d start with all the people who’ve complained about racism within the police. That’d be my starting point. Because the fact they’ve complained means they care enough to act.

Mathilda Mallinson  Policing by consent. This is the core idea on which the UK policing model is built. It comes from the nine commandments – if you like – given to the first officers of the Met Police in 1829 and named after then Home Secretary Sir Robert Peel. The nine Peelian principals remind police officers that all their powers depend on public approval and respect. And if, as Brendan advises, we start from scratch, they might be what we’re left with. So are there any models we can look to that have attempted to start from scratch? To rebuild from the ground up? After the break, we’ll take a look. Thanks for sticking around.

Dr Pete Jones  In Canada, on some of the lands of indigenous Canadians, the police service is colloquially known as a tribal police service.

Mathilda Mallinson  Dr Pete Jones says that is an example of a real life police force where the community has been asked to set the criteria, and the officers have been recruited from that. He tells me about the Peel Regional Police Force, named after those nine Peelian principles we talked about, in Ontario, Canada.

Dr Pete Jones  So in those areas, they have higher numbers of indigenous police officers policing indigenous communities. They sat down with communities and said: What is it you need from your police officers? And I think we should have done that. Because if communities are not at the heart of it and telling us well, what we need from our police officers is this, then we’re going to design recruiting processes as we have that really look to measure technical skills. I think communities would be much more interested in the service ethos of people applying, they’d be much more interested in the values of the person who’s joining the job than an interview panel with a competency framework sat in front of them.

Mathilda Mallinson  So in a nutshell, what would your lesson from this be to the College of Policing and the National Police Chief’s Council?

Dr Pete Jones  Talk to communities about what they want, you know, not the usual suspects. I don’t think you can get that from a former Black headteacher, I think you need to go and talk to people who’ve been stopped searched.

Mathilda Mallinson  Let’s do as Pete suggests, and speak to someone who has been at the receiving end of an unrepresentative, and as it’s been officially labeled, institutionally racist police force. A police officer himself, our next guest was pulled over by members of his own force. Why? He says for one reason alone, he’s Black. Charles Ehikioya is the Black Police Association’s recruitment rep in London’s Metropolitan Police. I asked him whether rebuilding from the community up was what this all comes down to?

Charles Ehikioya  Yes, of course it is. Let’s reconnect properly with our community and remember the Peelian principles, which says that the test of police efficiency is the absence of crime and disorder and not the visible evidence of police actions in dealing with it. So we need to be more community focused, we need to be more engaging and less military stylee. Because after all, the community are the police and the police are the community. We serve with consent of the public because we are part of the public as well.

Mathilda Mallinson  But for any of this discussion to have relevance, we end back where we began. Accountability.

Karen Geddes   Yeah, we could do better. We need to stop the act of defence, of wanting to be right. Nobody is above making mistakes. And we are all human. However, if we’re doing whatever we’re doing, and it’s not working and we’re not seeing any changes, like any good professional, we need to revisit it and perhaps change our tactics. And listen to the people that are at the receiving end of it.

Mathilda Mallinson  That wraps Media Storm’s special investigation into an institutionally racist police: process of elimination. But we’ll continue to push our findings behind the scenes and hope they lead to action. In the meantime, join us this Saturday at Kings Place in London for a live show with three incredible guests. The Times’ Manveen Rana, Novara’s Moya Lothian-McLean, and comedian Athena Kugblenu. The ticket link is in the episode description. We can’t wait to 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 have as many people as possible hear these voices.

Mathilda Mallinson  You can also follow us on social media @mathildamall, @helenawadia and follow the show via @mediastormpod.

Helena Wadia  Get in touch and let us know what you’d like us to cover or who you’d like us to speak to.

Mathilda Mallinson  Media Storm is an award winning podcast produced by Helena Wadia and Mathilda Mallinson. It came from The House of The Guilty Feminist and is part of the Acast Creator Network. The music is by Samfire.