Police to fast-track recruits with ethnic minority languages

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The Independent Online

Applicants who speak languages such as Turkish, Bangladeshi and Hindu will be fast-tracked into the police service under a positive discrimination scheme being considered by the Home Office.

Applicants who speak languages such as Turkish, Bangladeshi and Hindu will be fast-tracked into the police service under a positive discrimination scheme being considered by the Home Office.

Ministers hope that the plan to recruit foreign speakers, in preference to applicants who only speak English, will boost the number of non-white officers and improve race relations within minority communities. The initiative, revealed to The Independent by Hazel Blears, the minister in charge of policing, the Home Office would involve adopting a system where applicants with a foreign language such as Indian, Pakistani, Turkish or Bangladeshi would be recruited first, providing they passed entry requirements.

Mrs Blears said: "If you have got a range of equivalent applicants you can then say I need these particular skills. I think we should examine what the legal position is at the moment and see are there ways we can make the existing law work better in terms of drawing people in.

"I am thinking about genuine occupational qualifications where you can stipulate you need people with particular backgrounds. I met some police officers who were policing the Cypriot community in London and they were desperate for people who could speak the language. And they found when they got those officers the engagement with these communities was tremendous which then reflected in their ability to fight crime."

The idea is likely to be criticised by some as a backdoor quota system that discriminates against white Britons.

Mrs Blears said that it was vital to be fair in recruitment to maintain public support of police. She said she was not in favour of quotas, but the language system had been used successfully in the United States to recruit officers from ethnic minorities. Police forces are struggling to reach targets to reflect the ethnic breakdown of the people they police by 2009. This means that the Metropolitan force, for example, must increase the number of ethnic minority officers from about 6.5 per cent to 25 per cent - the equivalent of 7,500 officers - in less than five years.

Mrs Blears also said that further new laws will give the police in England and Wales power of arrest for all offences, including, in extreme circumstances, minor incidents such as littering or graffiti. At present, officers can arrest a member of the public suspected of a crime that carries a sentence of at least five years. But Mrs Blears described the current system as a confusing "nightmare".