A CONVERSATION WITH SUKI RANDHAWA – KENT POLICE DIVERSITY & INCLUSION COORDINATOR
Updated: Jan 21
Whenever discussing the Police, or the topic of policing, it’s difficult to exclude topics such as racism and discrimination. But Kent Police are one of the forces actively looking to change that and Suki Randhawa is leading the change. Suki is the Diversity and Inclusion Coordinator for Kent Police and I spoke to him about the initiatives already in place, as well as those he is looking to implement.
Suki’s path into his current position came out of his love for Bhangra, a traditional folk dance originating from Punjab, India. Often performed at cultural events and festivals, Bhangra dance groups in the United Kingdom took off in the mid-60’s. Suki is one of the founding members of 4 x 4 Bhangra, which was formed in the mid-90’s, based out of Gravesend, Kent. “We used to do a lot of stuff within the community…It brought everyone together,” Suki says. Every year, the 4 x 4 Bhangra team would put on a local event, requesting support of the local police force. “I got to know a lot of the officers. My relationship with them grew from there.”
A job came up, within the Equality & Diversity Training Team in 2008, which Suki was successful in applying for. He was the only Asian at the training college, but he saw this as a positive. His knowledge of community etiquette in certain scenarios, such as family bereavements, as well as an understanding of culture and religion, was something that benefitted Kent Police. Around 2017, Kent Police started reviewing their recruitment numbers. They realised they were not attracting people from visible minority ethnic groups. Suki would lead the project to address this. He initially found that “there were a number of national processes that were a bit of a barrier for people from ethnic minority backgrounds.”
One of the first things identified was that individuals from these groups, right at the start of the application process, had issues with understanding the questions. “They were never exposed to it. They had no one from their family ever join the police.” Suki realised that “they didn’t understand the police jargon.” With this realisation, the language in the overall process was made simpler.
This knowledge gap was also an issue for successful applicants. Officers from visible minority ethnic backgrounds were not progressing through the ranks, due to a lack of understanding with regards to what they needed to do (in order to progress). To solve this, a buddy scheme was introduced. “I would assign [officers] a buddy (who had been through the process). They speak to their buddy weekly, or every 2 weeks. Their buddy looks after them, takes them through that process and that’s where we started seeing the numbers coming through.”
Suki also identified a large percentage of those from Black and Asian communities were failing the initial competency-based questions. “Even people from the white community were failing.” So, they bypassed this stage and went straight into an application then into the assessment process. Kent Police also changed their rules on the timeframe in which failed applicants could reapply. Standard practice meant those that failed within a certain percentage could reapply but would have to wait 6 months. Kent Police was the first force in the country to pilot a scheme whereby these applicants could reapply within 3 months, which was unheard of. “In 6 months’ time that individual is going to find another job, they’re going to be disengaged and not going to be interested,” Suki says.
One of the big positives for Kent Police was their national ad campaign. Suki felt UK policing was missing a trick, especially when compared the UK Army adverts. “They’re in your face, on national TV,” Suki says. “In the UK there’s 43 police forces. Every police force would do their own little bit of advertising. You haven’t got big budgets,” he explains. Suki sits on the National Positive Action Practitioners Alliance, which fed this information to the Home Office, with a proposal for a larger budget and how it could impact upon recruitment. They managed to secure the budget. “Because of that national advertising, we started seeing people from visible minority ethnic backgrounds, and the white community, applying.”
In terms of results, Suki can most certainly say that his actions and initiatives have had an impact, with regards to numbers from a Black or Asian background. “When we first started, for each intake or cohort, we were probably getting 1-2%, highest we ever had was 3%. Now, every intake, we’re getting 9% of the economic active population. In Kent, as of April 2021, this figure is 6.7% so we are reaching a higher proportion.
As for what’s to come, Suki mentions that they’re “looking at running a degree programme called PCDA - Police Constable Degree Apprenticeship and DHEP - Degree Holder Entry Programme. An individual at 18 could join the police service and we’ll get them a degree within 3 years of policing. It’s not going to cost them anything. They still get their £25k salary and they get a degree at the end of it.”
Suki admits there will always be “that fear” amongst people “that the police is going to be institutionally racist towards them,” but he also insists that “policing has come a long way. I’ve always been supported and given the development opportunity,” he says.
My conversation with Suki was thoroughly enjoyable. There are some interesting similarities in the problems Suki has identified (along with the solutions) and some of the barriers identified by those I have already spoken to, for this blog. It was also fascinating to see what an organisation, outside of cricket, or sport for that matter, was doing and the commitment towards the end result of driving diversity. “As an individual you can change things. You can change it from within. I feel quite proud that I’ve changed that culture within Kent Police. I’ve created the foundations for them to join us by removing those barriers. Simple things”
Power in numbers can force change. But change always starts with one person.
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