Home secretary Theresa May believes having more Muslim female police officers can help foster better relations with the community and help tackle radicalisation.
Creating a more diverse police force would help “tackle a number of issues”, May told Eastern Eye last week.
“It’s so important that police represent the communities they are policing because that brings a greater understanding of the issues communities are dealing with,” the home secretary said last Wednesday (2).
She added: “That can also bring a greater ability to identity extremism and radicalisation, and to be able to deal with it.”
May’s comments came during an event at the British Library in London last week which marked the centenary of Britain’s first ever female police constable with official powers of arrest.
The conference for women police officers of all ranks and from across the country heard first-hand accounts from women who have had a long career in policing, and those who are just starting out.
May said that increasing the number of women officers and ethnic minority officers went hand in hand.
“Sadly, there aren’t enough,” she said. “We want and encourage more black and minority ethnic people who are interested to come forward and join the police.
“It encourages young people from those communities to come into policing because they see that policing is done by people like them and its not for somebody else. It’s for people like them.”
The latest figures show that as of March this year, there were 35,738 female officers representing nearly 30 per cent of all police officers.
Farah Elahi has been on the Police Now scheme, a graduate leadership development programme that places university graduates on the frontline of policing, since July.
The 23-year-old, who dons a headscraf while doing the beat around Hillingdon, west London, said that she finds it rewarding when she can make a difference in the community.
“The area I work in has got quite a large Muslim community. At first it was weird, because I wear a headscarf and I got a lot of looks. Now I’m used to that because even if you’re wearing the uniform you get looks by the public now anyway.
“I often get people come up to me saying: ‘You look so amazing, it’s really good that your representing the community’. I get most face-to-face time with different members of the community.
“I spoke to two Muslims girls the other day. They told me they wanted to join the police force but thought they would have the take their headscarf off. I was like: ‘I’m standing in front you so you don’t have to’.
“I said she had to wear the uniform and trousers, other than that there’s no objection; you can wear your hijab and there’s no big deal. They were surprised by that. There’s no outlet for them to go speak to about stuff like this, so it’s difficult.”
Elahi said she feels she can be “a bridge” between the Muslim community and police and has had to defend the force from misconceptions that arise.
“In the police you get inside knowledge, and until you do it you don’t actually realise why the police do things the way they do. I have a lot of Muslim friends who often hold certain views, so I have to be a little cheerleader for the police.
“I can explain why we do the things the way we do. Someone debated with me about stop and search rules; I explained the grounds on which they can search you, paperwork they have to show and the procedure, and they said: ‘Okay, fine’.
“Having a link to those communities is really helpful because it paves a way to explain yourself and making everything more transparent.”
Elahi revealed she initially wanted to take up a career in medicine, but after she was rejected she opted for a pharmacy degree and then did a masters in crime and forensic science.
“I really wanted to do a career where I was helping people, making a difference, where I was actively engaging with people. Unfortunately medicine didn’t happen and I didn’t get into the course I wanted, so I had to rethink my life.
“The Police Now scheme wanted wanted people from an academic background. A lot of neighbourhood work in the scheme involves problem solving because you got ongoing issues with communities,” she said.
“That attracted me because you get to do police work and also face-to-face work with the community. I can go into so many different types of departments after, so it’s really what you make of it.”