UK won’t meet its goal to add more women and ethnic minorities to its police service for another 20 years unless it gives preference to potential recruits from those categories, senior law enforcement officials say.
The Association of Chief Police Officers, an independent body of senior police officials from England, Wales and Northern Ireland, said Thursday that unless the law was changed to give priority to women and minority applicants, the government's goal of 7 percent ethnic minority and 35 percent female work force would not be met for another two decades.
While British law allows for so-called 'positive action' - such as recruitment drives aimed at women or minorities - affirmative action is illegal in Britain. The only exception is in Northern Ireland, where Catholic applicants are offered preferential treatment in an attempt to make the force reflect the religious background of the whole population.
The association said that, without affirmative action, raising the proportion of minority officers from 4.5 percent to 7 percent in two years would be difficult because low turnover made hiring new applicants difficult.
"The Police Service is almost unique in that most police officers serve for 30 years with the same employer," the association said in a statement. "This means it takes a long time for the overall percentage of women and ethnic minorities to rise."
Citing the example of Northern Ireland, the association said a diverse police force would help build public confidence across Britain's ethnic communities.
"If there is no change in the law, politicians, media and the public will have to accept that the goal of a representative work force will take many more years than they might wish," it said.
Britain's Home Office said it didn't support the association's proposals, and that under current legislation, discrimination of any kind was against the law.
"We support forces taking positive action to increase the number of recruits within existing legislation, but affirmative action is illegal," a Home Office spokeswoman said, speaking on condition of anonymity in line with government policy.