Coping with a changing county

RACIST, sexist and homophobic - are all charges which have been levelled at the police at various times. But last week officers were clearly enjoying Gay Pride - an annual lesbian and homosexual march through London.

RACIST, sexist and homophobic - are all charges which have been levelled at the police at various times. But last week officers were clearly enjoying Gay Pride - an annual lesbian and homosexual march through London. Today we ask does discrimination happen in Suffolk, to the force's own officers? JAMES MARSTON asks how police tackle the issues brought by a diverse population and workforce.

WHEN Liz Pettman joined Suffolk police in 1974, it was a very different world.

Scenarios which the nation loved watching on the recent BBC tv series Life on Mars, were really not that far from the truth of the time.

Women worked in a separate unit from the men, and Liz said: “We used to get sent to things with children or sexual offences or missing people. We would get patronized and told to do things like clean out the cells. We got paid nine tenths of what our male colleagues were getting, and we couldn't work after midnight. It really was like Life on Mars.”

In 1975, parliament passed the Sex Discrimination Act which came into force a year later.

Liz said: “From about 1976 things began to change. Women became fully integrated and over the years I have seen a gradual change in attitude and policy. We have come on a long way but there is still more to be done.”

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Today Suffolk police is much changed, and when Liz retired from the force in March she had risen through the ranks to become a superintendent - the second most senior woman in the constabulary.

Today she is back at Martlesham managing the force's diversity unit which has seven staff- but did you even know that Suffolk police has something called a diversity unit?

You might be forgiven for thinking that the county's constabulary probably wouldn't need that sort of thing. It's easy to think that Suffolk is, most of the time, a sleepy out-of-the-way place with a police force to match.

But in fact Suffolk police has long recognised the need to accept and recruit from a variety of backgrounds, to meet the demands of an increasingly varied population, and that's exactly where the diversity unit comes in.

Liz said: “I see my main role as embedding diversity in the constabulary and my job has two strands; to look at the constabulary as an employer and make sure we have the right policies and procedures in place, and also to make sure our procedures and policies on the ground meet the needs of the communities which we serve.”

There are six strands of diversity, including race, faith, age, gender, disability and sexual orientation.

Liz knows that to provide the service it wants to provide, Suffolk police needs to keep abreast of the demographic changes that occur in the county.

She said: “We rely on the census information but that was taken in 2001 and is now six years out of date. Suffolk's population is changing all the time and today there are a number of new and emerging communities such as people from Poland, Turkey, Portugal and a developing Kurdish community.

“It is crucial we keep on top of the changes that are taking place so our officers can be confident in dealing with the different and diverse sections of the communities in the county.

“We need to react to meet their needs. We need to find out what their needs are and where these new communities are. It is a big challenge that faces not only the police, but other service providers like education, the NHS and local authorities.”

Recruiting new police officers from the different communities in the county, is an obvious way to form and improve relations between different ethnic groups and the police.

Diversity specialist Tanya Patchett has the job to visit the diverse communities and encourage their members to follow a career in the police.

Tanya said: “I think it is very important that people aren't stopped from having opportunities due to their background, and I think, in the past, some people have not enjoyed the same opportunities as others.

“It is also important we have people from those different backgrounds to provide the service we should be providing. The police has not always been seen as a good career for people from ethnic and some other minorities. It is my job to change these opinions where they still exist.”

Liz and Tanya are aware of challenges ahead. Though the figures look promising and the evidence suggests Suffolk police does well in retaining officers and staff from minority groups, there is still much to be done.

Tanya said: “It is a big wheel that needs to turn. We have already met the home office target of 1 per cent of the force from a black or ethnic monitory background by 2009 and currently the figure stands at 1.95pc here in Suffolk.

“But we would like it to be 2.73pc to reflect the numbers in the 18 to 54 year old economically active workforce.

“At the moment there is work to do to ensure diversity across all the strands in Suffolk police. Once it is not necessary to have my role it will show we have been successful. I know that the day I won't be needed my job will be done.”

Does your community need better representation in the ranks of Suffolk police? Is diversity an issue that affects you? What do you think? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN or send us an e-mail to eveningstarletters@eveningstar.co.uk

27 out of Suffolk Police's 1,384 police officers, are from black and minority ethnic backgrounds - 1.95pc

Four specials out of a total of 305 are from black and minority ethnic backgrounds - 1.31pc

18 police staff (civilians) out of a total of 1,112 are from black and minority ethnic backgrounds - 1.62pc

662 police staff (civilians) out of a total of 1,112 are women - 59.53pc

349 police officers out of a total of 1,384 are women - 25.22pc

108 specials out of a total of 305 are women - 36.07pc

MARIETTE Bell, has worked at Suffolk police for 27 years and says her colour has never been an issue.

She is a supervisor in the contact centre in Martlesham headquarters.

The 47-year-old mum-of-two said: “I was born in the Caribbean in St Kitts and came here when I was two. My colour has never been an issue. I come here and do my job. What has changed is that when I started it was mainly men, now it is mostly women.

“I see a few more black faces around. I enjoy my work and I have no reason to go elsewhere. My experience has been positive and I support the diversity policies.

“The community here is diverse and the police was dominated by white middle class men.”

MIKE Pereira, 25, is a response officer with Suffolk police based in Ipswich.

He said: “It is a challenging job and I absolutely love it. I was in the army before and served in Afghanistan and Iraq. I wanted to join the police for a number of reasons and my background was never something that stopped me or influenced my choice of career.

“My father is from Sri Lanka and my mother is English. I think the diversity unit is still necessary. We need to be able to provide the same service to every community in Suffolk.”

“I have seen for myself that in the Iraqi community there is sometimes a mistrust of the police perhaps because of the experience many had back in Iraq. This is an obstacle we need to overcome.”

RYAN Wilson is a police community support officer, and he is openly gay.

He said: “I describe my job as public relations for the police. I enjoy being part of my community and I am very open about myself. I don't chose to hide my sexuality thought I have known officers who have, though that tends to be for other reasons rather than because of their employers.

“I have experienced no homophobia. I think society has made a lot of steps forward in the last five to six years. It's almost become fashionable to be gay and everyone has gay friends now.

“Thirty years ago it was an issue that was not discussed.”

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