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A Reference, Engagement and Listening (REaL) event took place with ethnic minority communities from across Northern Ireland in September 2023. This was structured around the five pillars of the 'Here for You' Public Engagement Vision. A note covering the discussions at the event was shared with attendees and below is a summary of the main issues raised alongside actions taken by the Police Service to address these to date.

Discussion Topics

Attraction and Recruitment

1. Lack of visible diversity in the PSNI

2. Internal culture is viewed as unwelcoming


1. High turnover of staff makes it difficult to maintain relationships

2. Cultural competence of PSNI Officers and Staff is important

3. Language barriers and access to interpreters can be challenging

4. Fear of deportation due to referrals made by PSNI to Home Office

Procedural Fairness

1. The use of stop and search powers is a concern

2. Focus of PSNI activity tends to be centred around Catholic Nationalist Republican (CNR) and Protestant Unionist Loyalist (PUL) communities

3. Lack of understanding of the wider Criminal Justice system

Local Accountability and Neighbourhood Policing

1. Lack of visible policing

2. Urban/ rural split in engagement with minority communities

Actions Taken

1. Youth Engagement: The Police Service launched its Children and Young People Strategy in June 2023 and a Youth REaL event was hosted at Newforge in November 2023. Work is ongoing to develop the youth work experience programmes that are hosted in all Districts. A bespoke range of school materials have been refreshed and updated in the last 10-12 months. We considered the results of a survey undertaken with Education Authority colleagues to identify the main issues which schools routinely ask PSNI to deliver, and based on this have drafted relevant materials. We have also liaised with CCEA in doing so to ensure that the material is relevant and that it reflects the requirements of the NI Curriculum. For the primary sector there are lessons on Online Safety, Being safe (Strangers/not just strangers) and the Role of Police and People who Help Us. For the post primary sector the lessons deal with ASB, Drugs, Online Safety and Sextortion. In addition, colleagues in Roads Policing deliver age appropriate lessons to children in Primary schools and also to older children in Post Primary who are moving towards becoming young drivers.

2. Cultural Competence: The Strategic Community Engagement Team (SCET) continues to develop a programme of cultural awareness events for Commanders and senior decision makers across the Service. The aim of these is to provide key decision makers with a better understanding of cultural sensitivities which should be considered as part of the planning and conducting of operations across Northern Ireland. Events have been conducted with the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland, ABOD (visits to their museums), GAA, LGBT Pride groups, the Belfast Synagogue and the Belfast Islamic Centre. These have all been well received and we would welcome further suggestions for events.

3. Cultural Audit: The Service completed a cultural audit in 2023. It highlights that there is a lack of understanding amongst employees on what Equality, Diversity and Inclusion mean in the workplace and therefore some of the barriers and biases which exist are not being addressed. There is also an implementation gap between the intentions voiced around Equality, Diversity and Inclusion and meaningful change happening in the organisation. The Chief Constable’s report to the Policing Board in February 2024 highlighted that “we have committed to invest in a programme of engagement and recognition events targeted at rebuilding trust and confidence with all of our officers and staff. This will prioritise directly taking time to meet each other and providing opportunity to work and develop together, across teams, with senior leaders and to celebrate and share our successes. Commitment has also been made to supporting Career Pathways and a Talent & development Framework in response to the audit findings around promotion processes, inclusion, transparency and fairness when developing our people and selecting for new roles”. The Service also aims to provide a welcoming culture that respects all community backgrounds and now provides a hijab that is part of the Police uniform. In addition, the organisation has developed mandatory diversity training for all Officers and Staff to complete with the second module launched on 28 February. This aims to give an understanding of diversity and inclusion and the law which provides protection against harassment and discrimination. It also aims to help Officers and Staff develop their understanding of the benefits of greater diversity in the workplace as well as providing information around unacceptable conduct in the work environment, how to support colleagues and how to work in a positive and inclusive manner.

4. ‘Two-Tier’ Policing: The Service has taken steps to address any perceptions around ‘two-tier’ policing. The Service Executive Team took a decision in June 2023 that Police Officers and Staff would not participate in uniform in the Belfast Pride parade, following a review of a previous decision taken in 2017. The expectations created by statutory obligations, the ‘Off Duty Standards’ Policy and Code of Ethics around impartiality prohibit officers from wearing their uniform or being identifiable as police when engaging in ‘cause issues’. Furthermore, a number of incidents around notification to the Parades Commission have occurred recently where the PSNI has taken a consistent approach to dealing with any potential criminality, regardless of the community group or background of those involved. Since the last REaL event the Strategic Community Engagement Team has also continued to develop relationships with organisations representing ethnic minority communities in an effort to highlight any tensions to prevent issuing arising and to inform any policing response.

5. Access to Interpreters: The Service’s translation contract has been reviewed and a more effective internal mechanism to highlight issues being experienced has been developed. Calls are also being dip sampled to ensure that they are compliant with the contact. These measures should ensure that the service is continually developed and remains fit for purpose. In addition, the procurement for a new face to face interpreter service is underway and through this process we anticipate an improved service will be provided. Finally, the organisation is regularly reviewing its accessibility across all communities and has recently worked with the Chinese Welfare Association to develop the “HelpinHand” app for mobile phone users which facilitates reporting to Police via the 101 telephone or online system and provides information in a number of languages to help users report in to police.

6. Local Accountability: The Reference, Engagement and Listening (REaL) model has been shared with all Districts and there is now a pack available on the PSNI intranet system to aid Districts in running their own events. To date, South Belfast has conducted one around tensions related to an increase in Race Hate Crime with ethnic minority communities. In addition, Causeway Coast and Glens, Derry City and Strabane, Ards and North Down, Mid-Ulster and Antrim and Newtownabbey Districts are in the process of developing local events which may assist in the development of their Local Policing Plans and address some of the issues raised under the Local Accountability and Neighbourhood Policing Plans.

7. Police Accessibility and Visibility: Chief Constable Jon Boutcher told February’s meeting of the Policing Board that the decline in Officer numbers, due to reach 6,358 by the end of March 2024, “cannot continue and necessitates the commencement of recruitment from April 2024”. This will initially involve exhausting pre-existing lists from previous campaigns with a new recruitment campaign expected in late 2024 to early 2025. It will take time for the benefits of this to be realised but this will assist in addressing some of the concerns around reduced NPTs across all Districts.

8. Anti-Immigration Sentiment: Concerns have been evident locally in relation to the allocation of social housing to newcomers, including asylum seekers, migrants and refugees, across some communities in NI with anti-immigration posters and graffiti appearing in a number of areas since November 2023. Incidents currently continue to occur, focusing mainly on Belfast District and Antrim and Newtownabbey District. These continue to be kept under review as part of community tension monitoring by the Service. A Practical Peeler briefing was developed as part of the policing operation which aims to assist District colleagues in making operational decisions around the removal of any offending material which may be evidence of an offence or hold value through forensic analysis.

9. Home Office Referrals: Following concerns having been raised regarding the relationship between PSNI and Home Office on immigration, an end-to-end review of the PSNI process for referrals of persons to the Home Office was conducted in 2023. As a result it was identified that processes needed to be changed to better balance the PSNI’s competing duties and specifically to ensure compliance with the direction that the PSNI will take a victim-centred approach and not routinely search databases for the purpose of establishing immigration status of Victims or Witnesses. This has already resulted in a significant reduction in referrals to the Home Office.

10. Race Action Plan: The Service is in the process of developing a Race Action Plan. We have also shared an overview summary with attendees of the key themes, objectives and actions which are contained within the Plan. This Action Plan has been overseen by People and Organisational Development and created through a Working Group with membership from business areas across the Service. A number of engagement events were held with communities in late 2022 to help inform this work and the Plan is currently the subject of a targeted consultation with the Executive Office’s Racial Equality Subgroup until 22 March.

11. Stop and Search: The organisation has developed a Service Accountability Panel (SAP) chaired by an Assistant Chief Constable that meets regularly to analyse PSNI’s use of powers. The SAP provides community focused scrutiny regarding the use of policing powers, such as Stop and Search / Spit and Bite Guards. It has been co-created with an External Reference Group with members expected to provide advice to the Police Service on the future development of policing tactics and policy as and when required. The most up to date stop and search figures can be found on the PSNI website.