SPACE: Making Room for Race Equality at Surrey Police.
PC Hermann Trepesch is the Chair of SPACE, Surrey Police BAME staff Network. Here he shares about their work and how they are making an impact on the organisation.
Tell us a little about yourself and your role at Surrey Police (if you can)
I am a Police Constable with 17 years of experience in various roles; mostly frontline and specialist. Over the past two years I have worked within the Diversity Directorate as a diversity advisor to the Force.
I am the Chair of our BME Staff Association SPACE (the Surrey Police Association of Culture and Ethnicity) with responsibility for the welfare, recruitment, retention and progression of BME officers and staff,
Our BME Staff Association SPACE (the Surrey Police Association of Culture and Ethnicity) was originally founded in 2001 as the Surrey Black Police Association in the wake of the Stephen Lawrence enquiry. We changed our name in 2009 to reflect the fact that many in our communities do not identify with the generic terms used in the past and also, to recognise the great influx of Eastern Europeans arrivals to the UK.
We have a Senior Champion in Chief Superintendent Dave Miller and attend all high level and strategic meetings relating to Equality, Diversity and Human Rights. Our voice MUST be heard and we work hard to ensure that we are at the table when matters that affect us and our communities are being discussed.
Why did the network start?
There are many historic reasons for the low numbers of visible BME police officers. A legacy of racist and unjust treatment of these communities and harsher policing led to a generational distrust of law enforcement.
The death of Stephen Lawrence and the inquiry that followed led to a very public change in how diversity was handled by the service. Whilst many believe that this was a knee-jerk response, for those of us in staff networks, the opportunity to be heard was taken and we have not looked back.
Action taken – Detail the actions your organisation or staff network took in order to address the issue. Include details of any further consultations, initiatives or changes in policy and processes your organisation made.
SPACE works hard in our communities and as part of the wider National Black Police Association to address this legacy to guide a new group of talented people into the service without the stigma of the past attached whilst addressing current issues.
There are many hurdles but we do not distance ourselves from the organisation and attack- we believe that to make a change you (WE) must be a part of the leadership conversations where decisions are made.
Stop and Search disproportionately affects BME communities- we sit on the Force Level STOPWATCH Scrutiny Panel. Having lobbied for a number of years success is the fact that in Surrey Police- ALL stop searches scrutinised by the panel relate to visible BME people and are reviewed quarterly for fairness and integrity checking.
Recruitment and the levels of visible BME officers is extremely low nationally- we are attempt to address this with aggressive lobbying at all levels whilst headhunting, mentoring and developing BME talent.
What difficulties did you encounter through the delivery of your work
The biggest obstacle to our work is ironically the very law brought in to protect people with protected characteristics!
We believe that we are ‘professionally tenacious’ and push positive action to its legal extreme wherever we can but the fact is we must and do follow the law. As such we cannot follow in the footsteps of the Police Service of Northern Ireland and institute or mandate a compulsory number of BME candidates – this would be discriminatory in the law and as such is not possible.
My view is that it should be allowed where there is evidence that national cohesion would be improved – the PSNI proved that this can work, why are we afraid to do the right thing?
We attend hundreds of events a year- we talk, cajole, mentor and hassle anybody who can identify or assist candidates with the potential to become police officers or staff to join us!
We are a voluntary association and work on a zero-budget basis. We do have limited support from our diversity team and have a great ally in the Diversity Manager Rachel Billington.
What has changed as a result
In the last two years we have increased the numbers of visible BME officers in Surrey Police by 20 – a 26% increase in officer numbers!
These numbers may sound low- but that is the scale of the job.
What are the key learning points from your activity?
Learn the ‘language’ of the organisation. Staff association speak from a place of passion and often, HR don’t ‘get it’ or are only responsive to the legal and policy ramifications of decisions. Once you speak their language, it’s easier to sell the business benefits of a diverse environment.
Lobby at all levels- senior buy-in is VITAL, but so is junior and middle management. After all, it’s the middle managers that create a positive environment in a company.
Recognise and reward those that make an effort to increase the cultural capital of your company. Train them, give them time, develop them and above all LISTEN.
What are your plans for the Future
Lobbying is one of our biggest tools. The organisation has listened and now Surrey police has two Positive Action officers working specifically towards increasing and retaining the numbers of BME officers into the force. This is in addition to the work of SPACE.
What advice would you give to other staff networks?
Don’t reinvent the wheel- talk to those that are ahead of you and share your own good work. The more of us sharing and supporting one another the better. Feel free to contact me- I will come and share my experience and help you on your journey while borrowing from you with pride! [Symbol]
Describe the future for staff networks in three words or a phrase
Growing in Power.