Off message: Cop a load of that

Occasionally, real life impinges on the cloistered world of any given profession. And last week, the timely intervention of our famously‘institutionally racist’ police force served to demonstrate just why responsibility for diversity should not be taken away from HR, as was recently suggested by the ‘equalities tsar’ Trevor Phillips, chairman of the Commission for Equality and Human Rights (Personnel Today, 17 August).

First, the government found itself being taken to court by Phillips’ own former agency, the Commission for Racial Equality, over its failure to promote equality of employment in its own departments under the Race Relations Act. And then, more spectacularly (spectacularly foolish in a shooting-herself-in-the-foot kind of way, that is) by the chief constable of Cambridgeshire police, Julie Spence, who called for more resources to deal with the increase in crime caused by migrant workers – according to our enlightened chief constable, more than 70,000 migrants have recently arrived in the area from the former countries of the Eastern Bloc.

Now, a cynic might suggest that with new powers of arrest under the terrorism laws – which give the police the right to stop and search anyone they like without the need to suspect that any crime has taken place – Cambridgeshire cops will easily be able to hit some kind of ‘activity target’ that’s been imposed by central government.

Destination Stockwell

Which reminds me of the heady days of stop-and-search and the dear old Special Patrol Group (SPG) of the 1970s and ’80s, whose remit seemed to be to ‘GET OUT THERE IN A BIG ARMOUR-PLATED VAN WITH LOADS OF WEAPONS AND NO TACTICS’. Back then as now, the focus for the police seemed to be the young or non-white person ‘with stuff’, ie, a black man driving a car with the intent of… er… going somewhere.

I was unfortunate enough to witness ‘police intelligence’ first hand one overcast Sunday morning in Putney.

I was stopped by a uniformed bobby.

“Where are you going?” he asked. “To the station,” I replied.

“Why?” He seemed troubled. “To catch a train,” I said, trying to ease his confusion. Now, looking totally perplexed and clearly agitated, he began swaying from side to side like a caged hen. Then suddenly he blurted out: “Why are you wearing a raincoat?” It was my turn to be puzzled, but, as the pavement was still wet from a recent shower, I simply pointed to the cloudy skies above us. This was clearly too much provocation and he grabbed my throat and pinned me to his SPG van.

Fortunately, this awoke his slumbering sergeant, who intervened. Those lovely boys in blue put me down again and explained that they were “only doing their job”. Well that’s OK then.

The ‘Peterborough effect’

In present-day Cambridgeshire, chief constable Spence’s demonisation of all migrant workers as a result of the crimes of a few is shameful. Clearly, she didn’t talk to her HR advisers, for I’m sure they would have pointed out the obvious fact that migrants might be the solution to any shortage of police officers in the area, and that these migrants might have skills that are urgently needed by the community, which has been suffering from a ‘brain drain’ for decades and is in much need of an influx of young workers.

Back in the 1970s, comedy genius Roy Kinnear, decked out in full Roman regalia, extolled the virtues of the ‘Peterborough effect’ in a bid to stem the tide of talent flowing away from the county’s leading city. And that same Peterborough effect still forms a major part of the city’s plans for the future – a future which the director of Peterborough’s Racial Equality Council, Harmesh Lakhanpaul, described in his strategic plan document as “a Peterborough where every member of every part of society is able to fulfil their potential, racism is unacceptable and counteracted, everyone is treated according to their needs and rights, everyone recognises their responsibilities and racial diversity is celebrated”.

Pity nobody told chief constable Spence.

We’re all migrants

Like London, Cambridgeshire has been a home to migrant communities for as long as there have been communities.

We live in a country of migrants we’re all descended from migrants.

People don’t come to the UK to steal our jobs, steal our women, or even to rob our criminals of their right to commit crimes. Most migrants come here to make an honest living and most seem to be more hardworking than the average fourth- or fifth-generation migrants that make up most of the ‘indigenous’ population. And far from causing all the crime in the area, migrant workers are just as often the victims of crime and exploitation by unscrupulous employers bending the rules for as long as they can get away with it.

The police, more than any other workforce, should embrace diversity, if only because it will obviously enable them to do their job so much more effectively in a multicultural society.

But perhaps the government’s obsession with numbers – not people – is to blame. Perhaps that has led to a police force focused on targets rather than real criminal activity.

Whatever the reason, it all provides strong reasons why, for the time being, diversity should remain in the hands of the people who actually care about people – the HR community.

Speaking exclusively to Personnel Today at the annual conference of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, Linda Holbeche, research and policy director at the CIPD, says HR must seize the diversity agenda (, 19 September). Which is preferable to the police seizing the initiative, getting the wrong end of the stick and then seizing the wrong man… yet again.

But experience suggests the boys (and girls) in blue have a long way to go. And their focus on targets does them no favours. Just ask the family of the hardworking migrant electrician shot dead by police for trying to go to work on an underground train armed only with a valid ticket. But as the police said at the time, they were “only doing their job”.

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