Equal Opportunities


Equal Opportunities Essay, Research Paper

Essay Title:

Critically examine the status of equal opportunities within the police service with reference to one or more of the following: gender, race, sexual orientation.


Equal opportunities is not only a non racist and non-sexist philosophy, it is a non-sexual orientation notion. In these three dimensions, race, gender and sexual orientation will be considered.

The conclusion of this essay is that from the three dimensions described, it would appear that despite British Society acknowledging these problems, British policing is, and will remain, a long way behind the search for the Holy Grail of equality, both within law enforcement and within the broader social life. Women, minority ethnic group members, and those of a different sexual orientation continue to be equal but separate: supported by the law but unable to obtain true and complete participation.

Equal opportunities legislation has been in existence in the United Kingdom for some time. This was aimed at improving the wage and job opportunities gap between male and female in the work place. The Equal Pay Act (EPA) 1972, the Sex Discrimination Act (SDA) 1975 and the Race Relations Act 1975 was framed in an effort to encourage employers to adhere to a code of practice in hiring and retention of employees, especially female and the ethnic minorities. The legislation sets out to prevent overt discrimination whilst at the same time ensuring that the majority do not perceive an unfair advantage accrues to the minority.

It was also for equality that the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) and the Commission for Racial equality (CRE) was formed to examine complaints of discrimination, mediate and, very occasionally, prosecute (Leishman, Loveday and Savage, 2000).

However there have been a recent spate of cases which throw this into question, giving the appearance that British police forces are not an equal opportunities employers themselves.

If this is the case we must look more carefully at the British police to see whether this inequality is really present. There are three basic types of discrimination that can prevent the practice of equal opportunities; those are on the basis of race, gender or sexual orientation.

I. Race

Under representation of ethnic officers within British policing has always been a critical problem, which the Home Office and chief police officers have acknowledged but miserably failed to address.

It is recognised that the police force is seen by many as not offering equal opportunities to minority groups. It is for this reason an equal apportioned recruitment drive was launched in order to boost the number of police in the Metropolitan Police Force from the ethnic minorities at the same time as reducing the numbers of unemployed. The initiative is aimed at the jobless in Haringey who are to be offered a 10-week training course just to prepare for the Metropolitan Police entrance test requirements (Flanagan, 1996: 2).

There have been many studies that have indicated that there is discrimination in the police force leading to the compromising of equal opportunities, this was proven to be in existence concerning race when thirteen different police forces were studied (Flanagan, 1996).

Equal opportunities can be seen to escalate in importance as the higher up a hierarchy we look, the more apparent it becomes. Through closer examination of the rank structure it can reflect the true nature of its hypocrisy and the way in which promotion prospects and ethnic recruitment will be affected.

This makes the case of Chief Inspector Martin Harding who was the most senior black officer in the Greater Manchester Police and went on to claim racial discrimination. He was claiming that his career was held back whilst four other white colleagues all received promotion. He qualified before these colleagues and had undergone the assessments for promotion in 1992, waiting for an opportunity ever since then, it was after this that there appeared to be discrimination due to his race (Marks, 1996).

It is interesting to note that it was shortly after this he was promoted. When we consider equal opportunities it is also interesting to note he was claiming this not only on the grounds of race, but also on the grounds of sexual discrimination, alleging there to have been positive discrimination towards female colleagues. Despite his subsequent promotion he continued with the case so that he could make better sense of the inconsistencies regarding equal opportunities. He also went on to cite that he believed the reason he did get the promotion was directly due to his equal opportunities action.

The police force denied his claims, yet in many ways it is irrelevant the way that the tribunal found, as in bringing the case, and the public support that the case received, demonstrated the perception of unequal treatment within the establishment. As such this needs to be addressed, as until this can be recited and at least the attitude of the members of the police force changed then cases will continue to be brought.

In this case we saw that there was not only race discrimination being cited, but also discrimination because of gender, yet there are also gender cases still being brought.


Public and political pressure has forced the British policing establishment to admit to institutional racism. This is a prerequisite for meaningful change to recognise the problem. However what is the use of encouraging young people from ethnic groups to join when they fail to be promoted or are stigmatised. This can only reinforce the views of the ethnic community when they leave in greater numbers than they join. Change unfortunately requires radical action, which would shake the authoritarian foundations of British policing.

II. Gender

It is well documented that the police occupational culture underpinning working practices is action orientated, hedonistic, but above all, male (Fielding, 1994; Heidensohn, 1992; Holdaway, 1996; Reiner, 1993; Walklate, 1996b).

It is acknowledged that greater feminising influences on the police culture may help to criminalize certain actions such as rape in marriage and domestic assaults (Heidensohn 1992:248). It has been argued (Hunt 1990:19) that policemen oppose the recruitment of women into the police because this would increase the risk of exposure and punishment, for rule bending or breaking, whilst police management oppose women in order to sustain organisational legitimacy and to maintain the delicate balance between themselves and their subordinates. A greater presence of women in policing is thus seen as desirable.

In 1990 women formed nearly half of the labour force in Britain yet they represented little over 10 per cent of the police workforce (Anderson, Brown and Campbell 1993). Prior to 1975 women officers were organized within separate departments having different pay and conditions.

The EPA brought women s pay in line with men s and the SDA included the police within its provisions despite protestations by various Police Staff Associations .

At their annual conferences Police Federation members argued that it was not appropriate to integrate women within the service for example:

Let us keep the ladies in their proper place. Pay them the same and give the same conditions but let them do the women s work and relieve us of it. (Mr Fairfield, Warwickshire Police Federation Conference debate 1976)

From a number of recent surveys on average nine out of ten policewomen reported hearing sexually explicit comments within their work place with approximately one-third indicating that this created an unpleasant atmosphere. Over 60 per cent routinely had explicit sexualised comments made at their expense with nearly half reporting the experience as unpleasant.

However, despite the scale and nature of harassment revealed by these studies it was also apparent women were reluctant to use the available grievance procedures because of fear of reprisals and/or victimization, a lack of sympathy, fear and that complaints would be trivialized, and the though of not being believed.

In a recent London case, which was seen to cross two equal opportunities aspects, again this is race and gender, although this time the gender issue comes from a woman and is the major thrust of the case. The case of Sarah Locker, a policewoman with the Metropolitan Police (Millward and Steel, 2000). The case was settled the night before the case was due to go before the High Court in London with the Metropolitan Police being accused of discriminating against a female officer who was of Turkish extraction.

The pay out by the police authority to Mrs Locker is one of the highest pay outs ever to have been made by this police authority, which her lawyers claimed amounts to 1 million including a 215,000 cash settlement plus other benefits such as pension rights.

In this case the discrimination was claimed to have resulted in a nervous breakdown of Mrs Locker after serving in the force for 16 years. The case was first brought in 1996 after the police failed to abide by a previous case that she had won in an industrial tribunal where the Equal Opportunities Commission backed her. She had brought the case due to her lack of promotion, which she claimed was on gender and race grounds. The tribunal obviously agreed with her as she was awarded a settlement of 32,000 plus the promise of reinstatement as a detective. Neither of which emerged subsequent to the hearing (Millward et al 2000).

In settling this case the police were adamant that they were not admitting any level of guilt. It is not the image the police want to put forward at the present time when they are trying to mend their image as well as tackle the race issues that came to the fore due to the Stephen Lawrence enquiry

The case was said to have caused a change in the way that the police force was run on equal opportunities grounds yet other cases are still being brought before the tribunals and courts.

Ironically twenty for years later following comments made at a Police Federation annual conference these attitudes are still reflected within police culture.


In the light of such evidence, attempts to reverse the trend of discrimination and harassment have been lacking. Clearly the conclusion that must be drawn is that the occupational culture of the police remains hostile towards women and that women continue to find themselves under-represented at senior rank and within the whole range of police duties.

III. Sexual Orientation

The lack of harmony between ethnic minority communities and the police and problems faced by black and Asian police officers is mirrored in the gay and lesbian community (Burke, 1995). Despite police equal opportunities policies including sexual orientation, the formation of the Lesbian and Gay Officers Association (LGPA), and recruitment drives in the gay and lesbian press, studies of gay and lesbian officers (Burke, 1993) report that recruitment and acceptance remains difficult and coming out highly problematic.

In 1993 only thirteen of forty-three police forces have seen fit to include the words sexual orientation in their Equal Opportunities policy and despite the existence of the LGPA there is still considerable doubt about openly declaring sexual orientation at the time of application for a job as a police officer.

In 1995, Sussex Constabulary became the first police service in England and Wales to target gay recruitment by placing advertisements in the Pink Paper, a nationally distributed gay and lesbian newspaper. In light of this development, a force spokesman was reported as saying we feel that the police force should be as representative of the community as possible and we do have quite a large gay community within our force area (Police Review, 1995: 7).

However in damming contrast Sergeant Hall who was found not guilty of attempting to pervert the course of justice, walked free from Norwich Crown Court after a jury agreed she misled her bosses only to avoid anti-gay abuse from her fellow officers.

The court heard how Sergeant Hall the forces gay liaison officer, told senior officers she was at the wheel of a police Volvo damaged during a collision. In fact it was driven by her lover Carol James. Ms James had offered to drive after Sergeant Hall said she was tired but whilst driving the vehicle later collided with a Saab convertible causing minor damage.

After hearing how a vicious whispering campaign had driven her to suicide, Judge Paul Downes, in speaking out after the verdict delivered a damming verdict on homophobia in the Norfolk Constabulary (Flanagan, 2000).

Research suggests that hostility towards homosexual officers is based on three interlinked factors: ignorance, fear of corruption and alleged instability.

Society generally holds a negative stereotype of the homosexual. Associated with this stereotypical view of the homosexual is a belief that, as with the drug abuse, a person can be turned: that the heterosexual can become a homosexual through association.

Fear of harassment by a homosexual colleague is beset with difficulty in part because of the apprehension that the allegation might result in the assailant using the same defence as that commonly used in indecent assault and rape case brought by or on behalf of females consent.


It is possible to suggest that discrimination, discouragement and deviance continue to affect numerous officers across many force areas, and what research has been conducted tends to support this view. That is, there remains an identifiable gap between policy provision and practice.

Overall Conclusion

It is apparent and despite progress in securing change within police forces of England and Wales, much remains to be done, not only within the organisation itself structurally, culturally and individually but also within the community it serves and from which it recruits its officers.

On carrying out research into this topic one staring synopsis can be deduced: fear thrives on ignorance, and so does prejudice which in turn leads to discrimination.


BURKE, K. (1993) Coming out of the Blue, London, Cassell.

BURKE, K. (1995) Identities and disclosures: the case of a lesbian and gay police officers, The Psychologists, vol 8 pp 543 7.

FLANAGAN, J. (1996) Police woo unemployed blacks, Electronic Telegraph, 26 February.

FLANAGAN, P. (2000) My gay hell in the police Daily Express, 20 October, p9.

FIELDING, N. (1994) Cop canteen culture , in Newburn, T and Stanko (eds) T, Just Boys Doing, London, Routledge.

HEIDENSOHN, F. (1992) Women in Control? , Oxford, Clarendon Press.

HOLDAWAY, S. (1996) The Radicalisation of British Policing, London, HMSO.

HUNT, J. (1990) Logic of sexism among the police , Women and Criminal Justice, vol 1 no. 2, pp3-30.

LEISHMAN, F; LOVEDAY, B; SAVAGE, S. (2000) Core Issues in Policing 2nd edn, Essex, Pearson Education Limited.

MARKS, K. (1996) Career of black policeman ‘held back’, issue 500, Electronic Telegraph

MILLWARD, D. STEELE, J. (2000), WPC’s battle with Met ends in ‘ 1m victory’, ELECTRONIC TELEGRAPH, issue 1838 6 June.

POLICE REVIEW (May 26 1995) p7

REINER, R. (1992) The Politics of the Police, 2nd edn, Brighton, Harvester Wheatsheaf.

WALKLATE, S. (1996b) Gender and Crime, Brighton, Harvester Wheatsheaf.


Gordon, P. (1980) Policing Scotland, Glasgow, Scottish Council for Civil Liberties.

Lundman, R. (1980) Police Behaviour: A Sociological Perspective, New York, Oxford University Press.

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