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Last Updated: Wednesday, 24 September, 2003, 01:15 GMT 02:15 UK
Black police voice grievances

By Danny Shaw
BBC home affairs correspondent

Black and Asian officers discussed issues facing ethnic minority police at the annual conference of the National Black Police Association (NBPA) in Cardiff.

A steel band was playing Caribbean music.

Shark steak curry and beef and okra gumbo was on offer at the buffet.

With the hospitality reflecting the diverse ethnic make-up of its members the National Black Police Association's annual conference is unlike any other police gathering.

David Blunkett aided by NBPA president, Sgt Ravi Chand
David Blunkett addressed delegates
At its inaugural meeting shortly after its formation four years ago, the NBPA had the feel of a new organisation - plenty of energy and enthusiasm but lacking in focus.

This time there was a more serious atmosphere, a carefully thought out agenda with a well-structured question and answer session.

There are other differences too - four years ago, the conference was more inward looking, probably reflecting the NBPA's need to find its feet and discover its voice.

This time the organisation felt more connected to wider police issues and the outside world.

The other noticeable change is there were far more white faces around the conference hall this time.

Integrated

This suggests the NBPA, which has sometimes struggled to be seen as a credible organisation among the white-dominated police service, is winning the battle.

Among those present this year were the white chief constables of Leicester and South Wales and the white secretary of the Police Federation of England and Wales and the white Home Secretary, David Blunkett.

Not that the conference segregated along racial lines in any way.

White guests and black NBPA members mingled and chatted amicably.

Ali Dizaei
Ali Dizaei spoke about his ordeal in being cleared of dishonesty
But below the calm surface waters there are undercurrents of dissatisfaction.

The Ali Dizaei case has opened old wounds of police racism, with accusations the Met force is treating black and Asian officers unfairly.

Last week, the NBPA said ethnic minority groups who wanted to join the Met shouldn't until they resolved the problem.

And although the dispute may be resolved soon, speak to the conference delegates and it's clear from their experiences that much remains to be done to tackle ingrained attitudes and assumptions about ethnic minorities.

One constable told me he had been on sick leave from his force for three years following a long-running and costly dispute which he believed was rooted in racism.

Proud police

There are dozens of other cases before employment tribunals where police employees believe they have been sacked or passed over for promotion because of the colour of their skin.

Speaking out against this so-called glass ceiling in the police can be just as costly to an officer's career prospect, as Ali Dizaei found to his cost.

Dr Dizaei who spoke at the conference about his case, cut a rather sad figure.

He appeared weary and worn down by the lengthy and intrusive nature of the police investigation.

But the pride with which he and other NBPA members feel about being in the police is very clear.

Why else would they take their conference so seriously if they didn't care?


SEE ALSO:
Cleared officer warns recruits
17 Sep 03  |  London
Asian officers criticise force
10 Jul 03  |  Manchester


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