Cheshire Police Insight programme seeks BME recruits

Cheshire Police
Image caption Cheshire has had no black officers for two years

A police force criticised by the Home Secretary for having no black officers has launched a new outreach programme to attract new recruits.

Cheshire Constabulary was one of four forces singled out by Theresa May last year for having no black recruits.

The force said its new Insight scheme - designed to provide help to women and minority candidates - had helped 20 hopeful PCs with recruitment.

It said the region's relatively low minority population had been a barrier.

Chief Constable Simon Byrne said there would be a "long term campaign" to increase diversity in the force, which has had no black officers for around two years, although around 0.3% of its 2,003 officers are from minority ethnic backgrounds.

During a speech to last year's National Black Police Association conference, Theresa May said the public will not have confidence in the police unless diversity improves.

'Trying to fish in a very small pond'

Mr Byrne told the BBC's Sunday Politics North West said he understood how important the issue was.

"I think we have to understand the community we can recruit from in terms of black minority ethnic people who live in the county is actually quite small," he said.

"The economic climate has improved, unemployment is relatively low, so when people make choices about what they're going to do as a career, we're trying to fish in a very small pond."

Image caption Tegen Bayissa has got through the first stage of recruitment

Tegen Bayissa could be in line to become Cheshire's first black police officer in two years.

Currently a Police Community Support Officer in Greater Manchester, he has got through the first stage of the force's recruitment process with the help of the Insight programme.

He told the BBC "I'm passionate about public service, especially policing, I think it's important the role police play in society".

"There's a lack of awareness with ethnic minorities, not knowing that policing is a career for them to consider."

Cheshire's Insight programme has been running since February, and is designed to help to women and minority candidates through the recruitment process.

Black and minority ethnic residents make up 3.1% of Cheshire's population, compared to 13% of the UK population.

Shantele Janes, from the Cheshire Halton & Warrington Race & Equality Centre, said budget cuts had impacted on diversity in the force.

Image caption Cheshire's Chief Constable promises a 'long term campaign' to increase diversity

"In 2005 there were 21 black police officers in Cheshire, but then the police have been hit by massive cuts, they weren't recruiting in the same way."

Mr Byrne denied the programme was an example of "positive discrimination", as all candidates will face the same recruitment tests.

"We have to strike a balance, and it is crucial that at the moment the law doesn't allow us to take a step further," he said.