Why would you join a force of people you are taught to inherently mistrust?
Leena Farhat says she’s been stopped by officers in Wales three times in four years – and “never for a valid reason“.
She believes cultural problems need to be overcome to encourage more people from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) communities to join the police.
Of 6,999 officers serving in Wales, 128 (1.82%) identify as BAME or mixed race, the latest Office for National Statistics figures show.
This is below the national proportion for the population which identifies as BAME – 5.9% – although it varies across the country, from 19.8% in Cardiff to 1.7% in Wrexham.
“In schools, from a young age, people are taught ‘if something isn’t right, talk to the police’, but a BAME child’s parents will say not to trust them,” Ms Farhat, a diversity officer for the Welsh Liberal Democrats, said.
“It’s a cultural divide you see in how many are signing up (for the police).”
The figures show there were just two new joiners from BAME backgrounds to three of Wales’ four forces in 2019-20, and seven new joiners at South Wales Police.
At the country’s biggest force, South Wales Police, 0.19% (six officers) identify as black, 2.6% as BAME and 96.6% as white, while North Wales Police has just two female officers who identify as BAME.
The figures also show only four female officers from these backgrounds are currently ranked higher than a constable in Wales.
Originally from Switzerland, with a father of Arabian descent and mother who is Mauritian, Ms Farhat moved to Aberystwyth to study four years ago.
“I’ve been stopped three times since I’ve been in Wales, at random points, and never for a valid reason,” she said.
“People develop a mistrust for the police, think they’re out to sabotage them and don’t care about people who look like them.”
The most recent incident came in December 2019, after Ms Farhat had been to the S4C studios in Carmarthen for General Election night.
She left at 06:00 to get a bus back to Aberystwyth.
“I had a big jacket on and headphones, and a couple of officers came to ask about a burglary,” said Ms Farhat.
“They looked through my bag and I was asked to go to Carmarthen station. When I said no, they told me to report to Aberystwyth station.
“It was the wrong place, wrong time, but there was another woman not far behind and they didn’t stop her.”
It is incidents like this which she believes many white people are unaware of, but which people of colour face on a daily basis, which destroys trust and stops more signing up.
She thinks the implications of “cultural mistrust” are far-reaching, from people not reporting racism for fear of not being taken seriously, while Ms Farhat has had friends in “dangerous situations” who have been reluctant to call 999.
Domestic abuse victims can be less comfortable speaking to someone from a different background, she added.
While policing is not devolved in Wales, Ms Farhat believes cultural views must change and called for a debate in the Senedd.
Equalities commissioner Joyce Watson said the issue should be highlighted, adding: “I would prefer to see this being discussed with some depth of meaning, not just political statements, but examining the reason and gaining improvement.”
A spokesman for South Wales Police, which has six officers who are black and 78 who identify as BAME, said: “We recognise and value individuals’ unique differences, and we want South Wales Police to continue to develop as an organisation which represents and reflects our communities.
“Whilst we have made progress during this time, we accept that we still have work to do, but we are moving in the right direction.”
The force also has a dedicated team to encourage applications from under-represented groups, with seven new joiners from BAME backgrounds in 2019-20.
Gwent Police said it currently has 50 staff members who identify as BAME – 29 officers, 10 police staff, six community support officers and five special constables.
“We have recently taken the opportunity to further engage with those in the organisation who identify as black, Asian and minority ethnic to explore with them what further support and opportunities we could offer to help them progress in their policing career,” Chief Constable Pam Kelly said.
Virtual discussions have also taken place with representatives of different communities about strengthening relationships and providing a better service.
In North Wales Police, 17 officers (1.06%) are from BAME backgrounds, with two of these being female – three have been recruited since the ONS figures were compiled.
Head of diversity Greg George said: “We recognise that, although the diversity of our staff is improving, we are not fully representative yet and we are striving to address this imbalance through positive action support.”
Dyfed-Powys Police did not respond to a request for comment.