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Interview: Leicestershire's first Somali PC

PC Adam Ahmed is the first person from the Somali community to become a police officer in Leicestershire, one of the UK?s most multi-cultural areas. He tells Police Oracle his view on recruiting from underrepresented groups and how his own cultural background influences the force?s neighbourhood policing.
Published - 18/08/2020 By - Chloe Livadeas

PC Ahmed joined Leicestershire Police as a Special Constable in 2015 and then as a PC in 2017. He is currently a neighbourhood policing officer in the Spinney Hill area, working closely within the community where he grew up.

He said policing is not generally seen as a viable career in those communities

“When I was growing up, all you would constantly hear is, ‘Become a doctor, become a lawyer, become an engineer’, which are all great professions in their own rights, but you'll never ever hear the police being mentioned,” he said.

“And the only time you hear the police mentioned is usually in negative connotations. It's usually ‘Oh, have you heard? So-and-so has been arrested or so-and-so has been stopped and searched by the police’.”

But there are deeper roots to this wariness of the police beyond forces' control. Somalian migrants came to the UK in the early 2000s and therefore have not experienced UK policing like the Caribbean and the Asian communities who may have been here since the 1960s and 1970s when police accountability was lower, as Ahmed said.

“My parents were born and raised in Somalia and the policing there was completely different. If you did something you would get slapped and if you were arrested, you'll pay a bribe and get out again, and the matter is all dusted under the carpet,” he said.

“So it wasn't really a profession and policing over there wasn't to be trusted.”

PC Ahmed said when people come to the UK, they can come across solely negative reports about the police online and from their neighbours.

He believes the police have a responsibility in shaping these perceptions

He said: “People will try and integrate into society and I believe that we should as the police service take part in that during that integration process within the community. And that is just simple things like explaining what we're here for, what our policing style is, what our aims and objectives are and answering any questions they may have.”

PC Ahmed has used his own experience of being part of these communities to introduce bespoke initiatives. One of these is bringing a group of mothers together to help tackle anti-social behaviour and prevent young people moving into crime. This idea was inspired by the high level of respect mothers have and the closeness of the family networks.

He said: “When I was growing up if I did something wrong and stepped out of line by the time I got home my parents already knew. And people know each other. If I was getting a bollocking from one of the Aunties, I would take on the chin, I wouldn't argue back. I’d say ‘I'm sorry, it won't happen again’. She’d get on the phone and say ‘Your son was up to this, he's on his way home’, and by the time I get home I’m getting more of a bollocking from my parents.”

So far 28 mothers have submitted an application to be part of the group called ‘Neighbourhood Action’. Once they’ve passed the vetting process they’ll go out on patrol targeting young kids and early teenagers hanging out on street corners. They’ll also direct them to nearby local youth services they could be engaging with instead of causing low level nuisance.

We often hear the police should reflect the communities they serve. But what does that actually mean in practise? PC Ahmed is an example of how a lived experience of a culture forms stronger community relationships and more effective policing.

PC Ahmed’s work has not gone unrecognised. Chief Constable Simon Cole said: “I am extremely proud of Adam and what he has achieved. He is an asset to the force as he is proactive in helping us talk to communities and understand what the challenges are.

"He is a breath of fresh air helping us work more closely with leaders and also teaching people about our approach. I want to see more young people like him in this force and would encourage them to apply to work with us.”

This encouragement is arguable already working.

Leicestershire Police’s latest recruitment campaign, which started in July, has attracted 30.3 per cent BAME applicants.

The last campaign, which ran from January to July this year, saw the percentage of BAME applicants at 23.8 per cent.

Leicester’s BAME population, only measured since 2011, is 55 percent in the city and 11 per cent in the county.

PC Ahmed said there’s no point bringing officers in from stereotypical white British areas and placing them in highly diverse neighbourhoods because the cultural make up is completely different.

“If you grew up in an environment like that, and this is a conversation I regularly have with my white British colleagues, and all of a sudden you're chucked into a very vibrant, busy, multicultural area such as East Leicester, then naturally they won’t understand.”

He says some of these officers don’t understand the religions, cultures and etiquettes that exist.

“It's not because they don't want to know, it's just that they've never had to basically go out of their bubble,” he said.

How do we get around this barrier? PC Ahmed says there needs to be a healthy environment to give people the opportunities to freely ask questions. He takes new officers to the local bakery if they’ve never had a chai tea, then to the Mosque to sit down with the Imam, then with the Priest at the Temple and the Rabbi at the Synagogue.

“Some people have some stereotypical views of certain communities, but it's not anyone’s fault, it’s because you've not been educated. So allow me to give you our cross cultural education!”

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