UK's top black female police officer explains race action plan to students

Friday, 17 May, 2024

Dr Alison Heydari and Lee Fryatt with students after her talk here

The UK’s top black female police officer visited the University of Winchester recently to talk to students about her work as Director of the Police Race Action Plan (PRAP).

More than 90 students studying Policing, Criminology or Law filled a lecture room to hear Dr Alison Heydari, a Deputy Assistant Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, talk about efforts to build greater trust between the force and black communities. 

Alison started by picking out key moments in black history - such as the New Cross Fire, the Brixton Riots, the Sus laws and the Stephen Lawrence murder - which had damaged severely relations between police and black communities.

“There is a history of disaffection and a feeling among black people that they are not being treated fairly,” said Alison, whose parents came to the UK from Guyana as part of the Windrush generation.

She said all police officers should be educated and aware of the “decades of trauma” which had been passed down the generations.

Among the key strands of the PRAP are that black people and communities should be:

  • properly represented in policing
  • respected and treated fairly 
  • involved in the governance of policing 
  • properly supported when victims of crime

“We are trying to reverse decades and decades of harm to black communities. This is an opportunity like no other to make this work,” said Alison.

She admitted there was a need for greater diversity and greater diversity of thought in the top ranks of the police.

Baroness Casey’s recent report accused the Met of ‘institutional racism’ and other forces across the UK, including South Wales and Avon and Somerset, had declared they were institutionally racist.

Alison said this was an example of a huge cultural change.  “Five years ago, this absolutely would not have happened,” she said.

She asked her audience if they thought the police were institutionally racist and just over half raised their hands to agree.

Talking about herself, Alison said she started out as a constable on the beat in Southampton.

Asked if she had been a victim of racism, Alison recalled being verbally abuse by a woman when called to a disturbance at a restaurant. Alison was heartened when her white male colleague stepped into arrest the woman saying: “You can’t speak to my partner like that!”

Despite all the pressures, she said policing was one of the best jobs in the world.

Her advice to future police officers was: “Be brave, don’t be afraid to speak up when you see something that you’re not happy with. Uphold police standards and say when things are not right – there will be people to support you.”

Alison had been invited to Winchester by Lee Fryatt, Lecturer in Policing, who had been her first training sergeant.

 “Clearly I didn’t hamper your career,” he joked when introducing Alison’s talk.

At the end of the lecture Lee thanked Alison for finding the time to attend the university and address students. 

"Policing finds itself at a pivotal moment, arguably the most challenging period since its inception. Continued inequalities and disproportionately in policing practices has eroded relationships and trust and confidence is at an all-time low, said Lee.

“Alison’s commitment to policing and delivering on the race action plan will ensure the police service strives to meet the cultural and organisational challenges required to restore a cornerstone of policing, that of trust and legitimacy. We are immensely privileged that Alison gave her time to speak to the next generation of potential police and criminal justice experts.”

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