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The impact of values, bias, culture and leadership on BME under-representation in the police service

Irene Afful (Coaching and Consultancy, Ametrine Enterprise Solutions, Liverpool, UK)

International Journal of Emergency Services

ISSN: 2047-0894

Article publication date: 8 December 2017

Issue publication date: 7 March 2018




The purpose of this paper is to critically examine whether the individual values and bias of police officers could be frustrating attempts to achieve black and ethnic minority (BME) representation within the police service, especially at senior levels. It focusses on the micro-individual level, examining perceptions, values and attitudes towards equality and diversity, unconscious bias and the impact of leadership in addressing these issues.


The paper reviews the literature on values, police culture and leadership. It draws upon data produced from a very small study undertaken within a local police service specialist unit where the author was employed, by means of semi-structured interviews with a selection of staff and senior officers, and values and attitudes surveys. Data were examined from a national survey of BME officers and Human Resources Leads, conducted by the College of Policing’s BME Progression 2018 Programme. Finally, unconscious bias test data of samples of police officers, including senior leaders and HR professionals were examined.


The interview data show that equality and diversity are perceived to be largely embedded by organisational members. This is contradicted by the data from the values and attitudes survey which show that equality is not fully embedded in the culture, and the data from BME officers survey supports this. Leader role models and behaviours were found to play a crucial role in embedding these values, along with training. The findings also demonstrated a higher level of unconscious bias among senior officers and HR professionals, responsible for recruitment and selection, than police employees in general.

Research limitations/implications

This exploratory research is concerned with policing in England and Wales. The very small sample limits inferences possible in the findings but is highly relevant to current and future policing.

Practical implications

The paper highlights some potential barriers to achieving a representative police service at an individual rather than organisational level and makes a number of recommendations on the role of leaders now, and crucially in the future, to fully embed equality and diversity into police culture to address under-representation, a phenomenon which has plagued the police service throughout its entire history.


There appears to be a dearth of studies examining the issue of under-representation at the micro-individual level within British police organisations. The current, exploratory research study seeks to contribute to closing this gap.



Afful, I. (2018), "The impact of values, bias, culture and leadership on BME under-representation in the police service", International Journal of Emergency Services, Vol. 7 No. 1, pp. 32-59.



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Copyright © 2018, Emerald Publishing Limited

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