Police forces should be ‘woke’ as it helps them understand the communities they serve - Alan Billings

Watch, therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour (Matt 25.13). That verse sums up the Church’s pre-Christmas season of Advent: it is all about being alert and awake. We could say being ‘woke’.

People are ‘woke’ today when they are alert to matters of social injustice, especially racism. Although ‘woke’ in this sense has been around since at least the 1960s, the word only came into most people’s consciousness with the more recent Black Lives Matter movement. Activists called on people to ‘stay woke’. But ‘woke’ has also come to be used in a pejorative sense, if not as a term of abuse – at least by some.

People are ‘woke’ if their concern with issues of social justice seems like an obsession, or if their concern is merely apparent, a form of virtue signalling.

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In September, the Home Secretary told police chiefs to ignore wokery and concentrate on crime.

'In September, the Home Secretary told police chiefs to ignore wokery and concentrate on crime'.'In September, the Home Secretary told police chiefs to ignore wokery and concentrate on crime'.
'In September, the Home Secretary told police chiefs to ignore wokery and concentrate on crime'.

This may be well intentioned – we do want the police to focus on crime and not go in for symbolic gestures that are not backed by determined and thoughtful action – but it is not good advice.

If it led the police to have less regard for the need, for instance, to have Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) policies, that could be disastrous.

Police chiefs should be motivated by ethics as much as prudence or expediency. We want a police force that reflects our national diversity and welcomes into its ranks people from all backgrounds, sexualities and ethnicities. If the force does not reflect the diversity of the population it serves, how can it serve the different communities that make up South Yorkshire with the proper degree of knowledge, understanding and respect.

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A good place for the police to start is with their own members. Is diversity recognised, valued and supported in the force?

I was heartened recently to join a conference organised by South Yorkshire Police’s (SYP) Equality Hub for the force itself. The Hub is an overarching group that brings together a range of discrete organisations within SYP that represent many different minorities.

SYP needs to understand its own diversity so that it can support and strengthen the well-being of its own minorities and make the force a place where discrimination is not tolerated.

There are some areas where the force needs to be more diverse, more representative of the communities of South Yorkshire. In some respects, it has made substantial progress. The gender ratio in SYP, for example, is now: female 49.7 per cent, male 51.3 per cent. But when we look at the latest figures from the 2021 Census on ethnicity in the UK, recently released by the Office for National Statistics, there is clearly much more to be done. The county’s population defining themselves as other than white is now 12 per cent, whereas the force representation for people other than white stands at 3.7 per cent.

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The Chief Constable said at the conference why she thought Equality, Diversity and Inclusion were important issues for the police. This was not being ‘woke’ – in that derogatory sense – but a recognition that each of these must be addressed if SYP is to be a good place to work and good at what they do.

If this is what it means to be ‘woke’, then Advent takes on an extra meaning for me this year as I seek to stay woke.

A shortened version of the Police and Crime Commissioner for South Yorkshire’s latest blog post.​​​​​​​​​​​​​​