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Police chief speaks about the importance of diversity in policing

After the government published the results of its race disparity audit last month, reporter Stephen Delahunty caught up with Windsor and Maidenhead’s Local Police Area Commander Bhupinder Rai, a first generation British Asian, about the importance of diversity in policing.

Superintendent Bhupinder Rai has spent more than 25 years working her way up through the ranks at Thames Valley Police (TVP) and is one of a few British Asians to command a police area.

A first generation UK citizen from a traditional Punjabi family, Supt Rai’s parents moved to Britain in the 1960s.

“My father was just 16,” she said. “He had never been out of India so I imagine it was quite a culture shock. I’m so proud of that generation who had to learn a new language and way of living.”

Starting work in a bank at 18, Supt Rai said it was the first time she had stepped into an environment where people of her race were a minority.

“I didn’t really think about how diverse the country was or issues related to race and gender,” she said.

“But you can understand people wanting to move to areas where it’s easier to get help and why communities stick together.”

Supt Rai applied to join Thames Valley Police in 1991, as it seemed like the ideal way to combine her passion for justice with something a bit more adventurous.

She has since worked her way through the ranks, becoming Local Police Area Commander for Windsor and Maidenhead in 2015.

She said that her first two weeks as a new police officer in Slough were quite a shock after coming from such a law-abiding family.

She said: “I learnt an awful lot about policing in the community and how partnerships work.”

Supt Rai was speaking following the publication of the Government’s race disparity audit last month, which aims to help understanding of why differences between ethnic groups persist, and identify those public services where work is still required to reduce those disparities.

Since Supt Rai started her career the percentage black and minority ethnic (BME) officers in TVP has roughly stayed about the same.

As of March 31, TVP had 200 officers from BME backgrounds, which is 4.9 per cent of the force total, representing a BME population of 15.4 per cent, or more than 350,000 people.

“It does make a difference,” said Supt Rai. “If you grow up in a community and live there you really know what that community feels like. That in itself is invaluable as you may get information because they trust you to treat it with the level of sensitivity it requires.”

Supt Rai talked about the issue of legitimacy in policing as challenging, especially around policies like ‘stop and search’ that targets BME communities disproportionately.

The Government’s audit revealed that people from BME communities feared crime more than white British adults. And while the numbers of stop and searches have fallen for

all BME groups over the 10-year period, people from BME communities are still three times

more likely to be stopped and searched than white people.

 “So if you can get that level of legitimacy in your policing, that’s more representative of communities, then that can help increase their understanding of our approach,” said Supt Rai.

 “And if you haven’t got that diversity of thought you won’t get that innovation or change.”

She added: “There is still work to be done – but I genuinely believe that after 25 years being on the inside it is the best place to bring about change.

“However, it takes courage and resilience to change hearts and minds.

“And it’s those courageous, capable people we need to join us — from all backgrounds.”

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