The boss of the second biggest police force in England says he wants a better relationship with the Muslim community which is not just “defined around extremism”.
The new chief constable of West Midlands Police, Dave Thompson, said one of his main priorities will be to build a service that people “trust”, and appealed for Muslims to have faith in the force for dealing with normal policing issues.
In an exclusive interview during his first day at work on Monday (11), Thompson told Eastern Eye: “The Muslim community needs to trust us being responsive to the policing issues they face.
“If our entire relationship is defined around extremism, then I think we have failed to serve the Muslim community well.
“There are particular challenges those communities have and I need to deliver a police service that’s responsive to that.
“People need to understand why we do the things and the work we do with the public so they understand carefully why the police take the actions they do.”
The chief constable said his main challenge against terrorism was to be constantly aware of people who were vulnerable or at risk of being radicalised. He made the comments before two men, aged 25 and 32, were arrested in Walsall on Tuesday (12) on suspicion of Syria-related terrorism offences.
“Trying to constantly be aware of people who are vulnerable or at risk at being radicalised by Daesh because we see lots of media, social media, carried out to try and radicalise people, is challenging. People who perhaps we didn’t expect to be radicalised are emerging.”
He added there needed to be more armed police after the Paris attacks, where militants killed 130 people last November.
“After Paris, we have to make sure we are a force that’s prepared for the extremes. The best protection against terrorism is always good relations with community, good intelligence and gathering, and good ways to identifying the cause of problems.
“I am also having to give considerations in ensuring we have a high amount of armed policing to the most challenging attacks we may face,” Thompson said.
He explained that he wanted to make sure officers in the West Midlands police “absolutely” reflected the make-up of the community.
Last year’s recruitment of 162 officers included only 21 people who were from a black, Asian and ethnic minority background.
He said: “The recruiting we are doing, we want to absolutely make sure that’s reflected. We want to be keeping ourselves fresh and literate as to the challenges the communities face.”
Thompson disagreed with positive discrimination during the recruitment process in order to get the best person for the job, and instead noted how some of the highest qualified and capable people coming into the force were black and ethnic minority applicants.
“There is no reason why we should have to discriminate against anybody to attract the more successful people. We are starting to see the fruits of our labour in attracting a more diverse group.
“Conversations I have with the community are that they think it’s more important we have high-quality people. If we discriminated, I think it would have a negative impact on how policing is seen, that we somehow have to bend the rules or do things so dramatically different to attract the right people,” he said.
“I do believe in serious positive action, however. I think we can, not just in terms of recruiting but also making sure the black and minority ethnic officers we have are given a fair opportunity to all the careers they can have in the police.”
On tackling child sexual exploitation (CSE) and grooming gangs, Thompson said he would work harder to prevent such crimes and denied that police in the past have been hampered in their work due to cultural sensitivities.
Last year West Midlands Police was accused of knowing grooming gangs of Asian men were targeting children outside schools across Birmingham and failed to make the threat public. Documents obtained by the Birmingham Mail showed that the force was concerned about community tensions because of links to Pakistani men.
Thompson said: “All social care and police services in the country have had a huge wake-up around the issue, from the Rotherham and Rochdale type events.
“I don’t recognise the fact we held back from doing the right thing because of cultural sensitiveness – I think there is much higher level of awareness now with CSE and policing.
“We ran training for every one of our response officers to help understand the types of things they should look for. But I think particularly around missing children, on occasions we fail to spot what might be disruptive behaviour of young people as a symptom of CSE or vulnerability.
“While I think it is right to say a number of cases have seen an over-representation of Asian men involved in CSE, many of the other areas of the crime, such as online areas, show a different, ethnic identity of offenders. We have to make sure one part of the problem alone isn’t amplified.”