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The Police Service’s Strategic Community Engagement Team (SCET) hosted a Reference, Engagement and Listening (REaL) Event at Ulster University in Belfast on 04 March 2024 with representatives of ethnic minority communities from across Northern Ireland.

The organisations in attendance were African and Caribbean Support Organisation Northern Ireland (ACSONI), African Women Organisation NI, Afro Caribbean Community, All Nations Ministries, Ards and North Down Cultural Forum, Belfast Jewish Society, Belfast Multi-Cultural Association, BOMOKO NI, Chinese Welfare Association, Committee on the Administration of Justice, Community Intercultural Programme, CRJI Traveller Project, the Equality Commission, Heart Project, the Home Office, ImageNation, Indian Community Centre, JoinHer, Migrant Centre NI, Minorities Recognition Awards NI, Polish Language, Culture and Affairs, Progressive Jewish Link NI, Roma Support Hub and STEP NI. Chief Constable Jon Boutcher, Assistant Chief Constable Bobby Singleton and Assistant Chief Operating Officer Aldrina Magwood were in attendance as were a number of representatives from the Northern Ireland Policing Board.

A full written briefing of issues highlighted and action taken since the last Reference, Engagement and Listening event in 2023 was provided to all attendees. A summary of this was provided to open the event with the Service’s Head of HR also delivering an overview of the development of the Race Action Plan. This summary document is intended to capture some of the important highlights discussed across the focus groups and plenary session.

Procedural Fairness

The PSNI is currently developing its own bespoke Race Action Plan which sets out a vision to increase trust and confidence in policing across ethnic minority communities. Attendees have been provided with a short overview of the high-level themes, objectives and actions to be included in the wider Plan. Do you have any feedback on the document provided or the development of a Race Action Plan?

  • There was broad agreement that the development of the Race Action Plan was needed with some groups suggesting that it would be very encouraging if the objectives and actions contained within it were met. However, feedback indicated that it needs to contain ambitious SMART, time-bound and resourced goals in order to ensure that the Service is held to account around delivery. Some groups highlighted that the timeline for the Plan is currently unclear in the draft provided with one attendee highlighting that it should be renamed the ‘Racial Equality Action Plan’ to make its purpose clearer. It was also noted that there is a need for the Plan to be accompanied by a coherent communications plan with an internal and external focus. Furthermore, it was suggested that there needs to be a recognition that this Plan must be a continually evolving document and that the Service will need to be able to demonstrate progress against it. 
  • A representative in one group noted that the draft plan “lacks a clear commitment to ethnic equality monitoring” (highlighted as one of the three priority actions for The Executive Office’s Racial Equality Strategy 2015-2025. It is defined in the 2005-2010 Strategy at paragraph 4.21). It was also suggested that if the Service can produce a Race Action Plan which is fit for purpose then it will also assist in improving confidence for the longer term which will in turn impact on a range of areas, including procedural fairness and attraction and recruitment. 
  • In addition, the inclusion of a greater emphasis around the development of cultural competence amongst Police Officers and Staff was suggested for inclusion by several groups. A query was also raised in one group around whether the Plan will include a specific focus on engagement with asylum seeker and refugee communities; it is expected that this will fall within theme four around work to ‘build strong relationships with ethnic minority communities across Northern Ireland to ensure they feel protected by their Police Service’. It was also suggested by one group that the Service should seek to improve structural arrangements at a District level to help ensure a consistent approach to this theme across Northern Ireland. 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 developing their own events. 
  • The language used in theme one around “advocate for an anti-racist policing culture” was raised within some groups with suggestions that the Plan should go further than this and acknowledge the MacPherson Report’s definition of ‘institutional racism’ which was included within the Baroness Casey Review into the standards of behaviour and internal culture of the Metropolitan Police Service published in 2023. One group also queried whether the Plan will make reference to intersectionality in order to recognise how multiple identities can interact to create barriers for some communities.

Attraction and Recruitment

How could you assist the PSNI in developing our workforce to ensure that it is representative of the communities we serve? Are there events or key locations that the Service could target or specific groups that would benefit from engagement as part of any upcoming Officer recruitment later in 2024?

  • All groups agreed that improving representation within the PSNI so that ethnic minority communities can see themselves in Policing is vital; 0.6 per cent of Police Officers and 0.77 per cent of Police Staff were from ethnic minority backgrounds on 01 March 2024. There were a range of suggestions, including a more targeted and nuanced approach for underrepresented groups ahead of launching the campaign to the main audience. This should also include providing relevant literature in a range of languages to assist community representatives in advising and encouraging potential candidates. It could also be helpful in terms of spreading the information to older family members who might not encourage their children to join the Police due to negative perceptions. 
  • There was a sense that the previous recruitment in 2021 drive left it too late to allow ethnic minority communities to provide assistance. There were suggestions that any in-person events around recruitment should take place on evenings and at weekends; online events were also identified as key for attracting a wider audience. 
  • There was a desire for the Police Service to get involved in community events. Most groups highlighted that they had excellent relationships with their Neighbourhood Teams and that attendance at community events was good but there was a recognition that staffing levels did impact on attendance at times. 
  • It was suggested by one group that Article 37 of The Race Relations (Northern Ireland) Order 1997 could allow for discriminatory training in cases where a particular racial group is under-represented. It is worth noting that assessment centre familiarisation exercises have previously been targeted at under-represented groups with a video designed to accompany this during the last recruitment campaign. The Service plans to revisit this in conjunction with our internal Minority Support Associations and others ahead of any upcoming recruitment campaign.
  • Attendees also urged the Service to do more to promote the breadth of roles across the Service, including opportunities for Police Staff. A number of the groups discussed minimum entry requirements for Police Staff roles which also require five GCSEs. It is also worth noting that the Service accepts a wide range of equivalent Level 2 qualifications, for example, Level 2 Literacy, Numeracy, ICT etc. which are widely available to complete via Further Education Colleges within a short timeframe and may be free of charge depending on individual circumstances. Further information around this is available via the Service’s recruitment website under ‘Education FAQs’.

Local Accountability

Northern Ireland has recently experienced an increase in anti-immigration sentiment linked to the allocation of housing with posters and graffiti appearing in a number of areas. How effective do you believe the PSNI response has been and is there anything Police or other partners could do to improve this?

  • This question highlighted a lack of awareness across some of the groups around the issue of anti-immigration posters in parts of Northern Ireland. This relates to the allocation of housing to newcomers in some areas, including asylum seekers, migrants and refugees, with anti-immigration posters and graffiti appearing sporadically since November 2023. Incidents have taken place in a number of areas but have focused mainly on Belfast District and Antrim and Newtownabbey District. There was a concern from some groups that the approach taken to dealing with this was not consistent across Northern Ireland and that better communication highlighting any action taken would be beneficial in allaying community concerns.
  • This topic also highlighted a wider issue with some groups noting that the PSNI needed to “realign their response to asylum seekers and refugees” as a perception still exists that an individual could risk being deported if they report a crime. The Service conducted an end-to-end review of processes of the process for referrals to the Home Office 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.

Procedural Fairness

The Service is currently developing guidance for Police Officers on a female-centred approach to women and girls’ offending following a report by Criminal Justice Inspection Northern Ireland. What specific needs, vulnerabilities and challenges are experienced by women and girls, from ethnic minority groups, who are in (or at risk of) conflict with the law? How can the Police Service best address those needs, in a way which is both gender and culturally responsive, to ensure equitable outcomes for women and girls from ethnic minority groups?

  • Groups that discussed this question emphasised the importance of having good cultural awareness amongst Officers and Staff and being respectful towards different cultural traditions. A number of groups highlighted the impact that recognising culturally significant dates can have on individuals and communities. 
  • Concerns around access to translated documents and interpreters was also highlighted as a specific need for women and girls from ethnic minority groups. One group suggested that those in conflict with the law from ethnic minorities should not be treated differently to individuals from other communities.
  • Suggestions were made around obtaining the “lived experience” of individuals as a way in which to develop this policy area. It was recognised that further engagement is required in this area with a number of attendees indicating that they would be willing to assist in future engagement and consultation as the Service seeks to develop this work.