New police chief may adopt quota system for ethnic minority recruits

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The Independent Online
A QUOTA system to raise the number of ethnic minority officers in the Metropolitan Police is being examined by Scotland Yard, the force's new commissioner said.

But Sir Ian Blair, Britain's most senior police officer, said the highly controversial use of positive discrimination would be a "last resort" if other measures failed to increase the representation of non-whites.

Sir Ian, in an interview with The Independent, conceded that his force would fail to reach the Home Office target of having 25 per cent of officers from ethnic minorities by 2009. The current number of non- white officers is about 2,150, or 7 per cent, although ethnic minorities account for about 17 per cent of all new recruits.

An alternative would be to change the law and alter the Race Relations Act to allow positive discrimination. Sir Ian said his force could in the future adopt a similar procedure to the quota system operated in Northern Ireland, where an equal number of Catholic and Protestant officers were hired. Sir Ian said he had discussed the issue with Trevor Phillips, the chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality.

The Met chief said: "I would like to be involved in discussions as to whether we can change the law in order to change the make-up of the organisation.

"This is not about kicking people out, it is about entry.

"One thing I want to do is create space for people from minorities ... One thing you could do is echo the legislation for the PSNI [Police Service for Northern Ireland] - where the organisation had to take 50/50 - and take applications in proportion to the economically active population of London for a limited period of years."

But he added that rather than use legislation, he wanted to make the Metropolitan Police a place "everybody wants to join" regardless of what community they were from.

Sir Ian outlined several measures that his force would introduce to boost the number of ethnic minority recruits. These included giving priority to applicants with language skills, graduates, and Londoners - all categories in which there was a disproportionately high number of ethnic minorities.

He stressed, however, that "the one thing we will not do, is lower the basic standard."

Asked whether the Met had any chance of reaching the Home Office's 25 per cent target - which was one of the key recommendations from the inquiry into the Stephen Lawrence murder - he replied: "I am not going to make it because I have got an organisation that has a lot of people who are not from minorities in it.

"Before we get to 2009 we need to change the target so that the target is not about the number of people in the organisation, it is about the number of people that you recruit."

Sir Ian, 51, who was promoted from his job as deputy to commissioner at the beginning of this month, is considered a moderniser. His leadership style is likely to be different to his predecessor; while Sir John Stevens enjoyed his reputation as a former thief catcher and "copper's copper", his successor is more analytical and could prove to be one of the Met's most radical commissioners.

An Oxford graduate, Sir Ian has already won praise from the Home Office for his leading role in the creation of community support officers (CSOs) - the civilian patrollers that have provided public reassurance at a cut price.

Sir Ian believes further jobs will be filled by civilians, and said he proposed to the Lord Chancellor's department the setting up of a new Met squad or agency which would target people who failed to pay fines.

"You would have CSOs who enforce fine warrants," he said. He also believes CSOs could take over guarding courts.

But he was adamant that the number of fully trained officers would not drop, and that civilian patrollers would not be given more powers. "There will be no CSOs with batons or CS sprays," he pledged.

Sir Ian joined the Met in 1974 after obtaining a degree in English language and literature. After rising up the ranks he moved to Surrey to become the chief constable in 1998. Two years later he returned to Scotland Yard as the deputy commissioner, before being knighted in 2003.

Among the issues he is concerned about is the number of murders and attacks carried out by mentally ill people.

He said: "I think there needs to be more honesty around what do we do about this very small minority of people who are capable, if they haven't got the right treatment, of causing terrible harm to themselves and very often to their own families. We have also had the murder of social workers and probation officers, and then you get these dreadful random murders."

He highlighted the case of Denis Finnegan, 50, who was stabbed to death in Richmond Park last September while cycling. John Barrett, 41, a former mental health patient, has been charged with the murder.

Sir Ian said there needed to be greater sharing of information between the police and the National Health Service, and measures to ensure mental patients took their medication in front of a nominated person.

Since taking up the top police post last week he has been constantly in the headlines, calling on the Home Office for pub and club owners to pay for the additional policing needed to cope with 24-hour drinking, and beginning a clamp-down on "dinner party" cocaine users.

Summing up his first week as commissioner, he said: "I have been surprised by some of the questions around binge drinking, celebrity drug-taking, and all sorts of other things.

"I'm learning one thing, which is that there is a sense in which the `top cop' is oddly seen not only as the `top cop', but also some sort of moral arbitrator. That is not my job, there are others better qualified than that."

SIR IAN'S PRIORITIES

Terrorism

Sir Ian Blair says an attack is "inevitable" but it is not inevitable that it will succeed.

Community

He puts big emphasis on what are called Safer Neighbourhoods in which teams of officers will be allocated to local beats to tackle yobbery and anti-social behaviour.

Drinking

Not "overly" concerned about extending drinking, but wants the "polluter" - the clubs and pubs - to pay for any additional policing required to cope with 24-hour opening.

Armed police

Opposes arming the police, but would like greater recognition of the "bravery" of officers who work in London.

Violence

Will target prolific violent offenders who use guns and knives. Believes that people caught with knives should receive a mandatory prison sentence.

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