Women of Colour in Policing (WoCiP) started life as a movement for women from ethnic minority backgrounds working across Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Hertfordshire (BCH) Police.
The aim was to bring together, elevate and champion women of colour in policing as well as their allies, whether they are officers, staff, volunteers or retired.
The size and ambitions of the group have since snowballed with Founder Sandra Smith and Assistant Lead Sam Alexander at the helm, and WoCiP BCH is now making a splash far beyond the three forces, even making it on the national stage.
SFJ Awards certificate learners on the “Talent Management Programme” with WoCiP BCH. Having last spoken to WoCiP BCH in the run up to International Women’s Day and the release of the Casey Review, we caught up with WoCiP BCH members Sgt Sandra Smith, DC Barbara Lawrence, and PCSO Latoyah Henry, and DCS Julie Henderson, who has been a champion of the group from the start.
Despite speaking to you guys a little over 6 months ago, a lot has changed in the world of policing. What’s the view from WoCiP BCH?
Sandra Smith To talk about everything that we’ve done so far this year, we’d be sitting here for a few hours! So, I guess the first major development since we last met is the submission of a paper to the Home Office, which addresses what can be done to improve community policing and increase trust and confidence in police forces.
It was submitted in March, and it was published in July. So, it’s now on the Home Office site.
We’re also sponsoring Bright Lights Award Ceremony (BLAC), which is very exciting. These national awards draw attention to Black community issues and highlight positives within African-Caribbean communities.
We can’t look back at the last 6 months without mentioning the Casey Review. How do you assess the situation and where do we go from here?
Julie Henderson It should be another seismic report for policing. But we’ve all been here before.
As an onlooker, as a member of the public, you could say, well, what’s changed? What’s better, in fact, haven’t we gone backwards not forwards?
I think from my perspective, the mere fact that Baroness Casey was invited in to look at everything and lift up all the stones shows that things have changed.
It’s obviously very damning across different aspects: misogyny, sexism, racism, homophobia. It has uncovered some horrendous stories, horrendous accounts of lived experiences.
But it’s out there in the public domain like it’s never been before. So, for me, that’s a positive. It’s a positive that these stories are now being told and that people are listening to those who previously didn’t have a voice.
And so, I would expect change to follow. It’s not going to be quick change. The only speed of change that really accelerates anything, which is what we saw during the pandemic, are matters of life and death. But other change takes longer to move forward.
You seem confident that the Casey Report will result in a concerted long-term effort to tackle racism and sexism in policing?
SS Policing is moving forward. There’s a network of women that actually look like us now. If you’d asked me a couple of years ago, would I be sitting in the meeting with two other Black women? And the answer would be no.
It’s not just about women of colour. We have allies who are white, and we have allies who are male. So, we are very inclusive in what we’re doing.
With that said, do you think intersectionality is taken as seriously as it should be within policing?
JH When I joined, you know, gender representation was really, really low. But now we’re heading, I think, in Bedfordshire towards a 50-50 split of men and women.
It’s only right and proper because, you know, we police 50% women and 50% men. So why wouldn’t the police force be 50% women and 50% men?
So that’s an example that demonstrates that we can get there, but it’s probably taken two or three decades, if not more.
To get to the same place with other underrepresented groups, whether that be Black, Asian or other minority groups such as sexuality. It’s going to take time.
It’s important that we have consistent changes over time to get you to where you want to be and WoCiP BCH is taking us towards that.
SS When I do any interviews or if I run training sessions, I always talk about intersectionality because actually it’s not my colour that defines me as a person.
I’m an individual who has a few protective characteristics, which I’m happy to share, you know, I’ve got a hidden disability, I’m obviously Black, female woman of a certain age who is gay. So, there is so much more to me than my colour.
I can sometimes come across as complex so I would treat me as Sandra Smith, an individual. Get to know me as a person but don’t assume that because I’m from a certain protected characteristic, I’m going to react and act in a certain way. Treat me as a person. See the person.
JH I think it’s our responsibility, certainly mine as a line manager and a leader to do just that.
To get the best out of our people and to capitalise and use those things that make us who we are to serve the public better.
And I think policing is probably not very good at doing that.
We need to say, right, okay, let’s take that difference and make the best out of it and give you the opportunity to thrive in your uniqueness. We’re not very good at it. We must get better at it.
I’m not sure I’m ever going to fix that, but I’ll try as long as I’m here, I’ll try my best to make sure that we can.
Is that where police struggle? Insofar as there are very few shades of grey? It’s literally black and white: have you broken the law? Because of those rigid processes and procedures that have got to be followed, does that make it slightly more difficult to use your own discretion?
JH I think we do operate in a lot of grey areas where we try and take a balanced view of everybody’s perspective because everybody’s got a story, haven’t they? There’s a reason why everybody’s got to that position and are in that crisis moment.
Obviously, we can’t always do that. I think where our rigidity comes in is when we’re dealing with critical incidents.
So, there is a place for tasking and command and control. Definitely. But there’s also a place for when we’re not in that critical space to say right, okay, what’s our objective as a police force? And who’s got the skills and the ability and the attributes to get us to that point? And that’s the difference.
In your view, what can or needs to be done to make a career in the police more attractive, more inclusive and more representative of society?
Latoyah Henry I do feel that no matter what the police do to make it attractive, certain people don’t want to join.
I wanted to join the police to try and make a change from within.
We can all stand on the outside and point the finger and say that the police are this or that, but why not do something about it?
By patrolling the streets, a young Black girl sees me, and she goes wow! And I get that quite a lot. Being there just for that one little Black girl to see me – that’s changed her.
Being consistent and relatable and open to recruiting people from diverse backgrounds is how we can reach as many people as possible.
Barbara Lawrence I think I can echo what Latoyah said. I’ve had situations where I attended jobs and some members of the public were surprised to see a Black female in police in their community but made some of them able to relate well with me.
Before I joined to be a police officer, I took a leap of faith amid the negative perception about a Black female in policing and since then I have been able to encourage others to join.
Diversity in policing will survive by continuous education and sharing of lived experience of officers/staff across the three forces or on national level.
Allies and networking are central to WoCiP BCH’s MO. Can you tell us about the work you’re doing with partners such as the International Police Association and SFJ Awards as you continue to campaign for positive change?
SS In June 2023 I saw an email from the International Police Association asking for colleagues of under 40 years old to go on a course they were running.
I went back and questioned them. What about the rest of us? What are you offering us?
They came back with a very long but nicely worded answer, and from there I’ve been communicating with them.
I think they have a lot to learn about how and why WoCiP BCH emerged, how it has grown, and they genuinely want to learn from that.
So, we’re going to work collaboratively with them and see how far we get.
Everything we do is women centred. The movement started for women, so we want it to remain that way. We also want to continue to be grassroots to ensure that it’s authentic and to build consistency.
I think SFJ Awards are going to help us do that.
By offering a programme that’s accredited it makes sure our members, who need support in their careers, attend every session and get the best out of the 8 weeks.
Offering them a certificate that’s recognised and accredited, gives them something valuable to show for it and use in their future careers.
WoCiP BCH is working with SFJ Awards to give those who successfully complete their mentoring programme an industry-recognised certificate that documents their learning. To find out more visit: https://www.beds.police.uk/police-forces/bedfordshire-police/areas/campaigns/campaigns/black-history-month—our-stories/women-of-colour-in-policing-wocip/