Does the Metropolitan Police reflect London's ethnic diversity?

13 January 2014

"We can't have a police force representative of a London which has an ethnic minority population of 55% when only 10% of its officers are from an ethnic minority."
David Lammy in the Daily Mirror, 13 January 2014

The verdict of lawful killing returned by the jury in the inquest into the killing of Mark Duggan has led some to ask what can be done to rebuild trust in the Metropolitan Police.

Among them is David Lammy, Labour MP for the Tottenham constituency that Mr Duggan called home, who today argued that the Met needed to do more to make sure its ethnic mix reflected the communities it served.

Ethnic majority?

The first part of Mr Lammy's claim - that 55% of Londoners come from an ethnic minority background - is problematic. The Greater London Authority (GLA) calculates that 3.3 million Londoners classify themselves as Black and Minority Ethnic (BME), around 40% of the 8.2 million people living in the capital. In fact, the GLA estimates that "the proportion of the population that is BME is projected to reach 50% by the mid-2030s."

The figures themselves are drawn from the 2011 Census, which does show that 45% of London's population identified themselves as 'White British' (or White English/Welsh/Scottish or Northern Irish), meaning that 55% had different ethnic origins.

On the basis of these figures, Mr Lammy is correct if you understand 'ethnic minority' to mean anyone who does not describe themselves as White British. However this isn't the definition that is usually used for statistical purposes: the GLA and the Met itself define ethnic minority to be anyone who isn't white, thereby removing those who think of themselves as White Irish, White Gypsy/Traveller or White Other origins (who collectively make up 18.9% of London's population) from Mr Lammy's cohort.

Thin White Line?

The claim that just 10% of Metropolitan Police officers are from a BME background is easier to verify with Scotland Yard, whose 2011 report 'How We Police' stated that "10% of police officers are from black and minority ethnic (BME) communities, compared to 32% of London's working age population."

The gulf between the force's ethnic mix and that of London as a whole is grows larger in the higher echelons of the pay scale: only 4% of officers at chief inspector level or above are BME.

Nevertheless, as the Home Affairs select committee found when it looked at the issue, the Met can boast that it has the highest proportion of BME officers in the country. For context, In Dyfed-Powys, North Wales and Humberside, fewer than 1 in 100 officers are from a BME background (although these areas are also some of the most ethnically homogenous in the country).

There is also some evidence that the Met is becoming more like the population it serves. At the time of the 1999 Macpherson Report into the Met's handling of the murder of Stephen Lawrence, just 3.4% of officers on London's streets were from BME backgrounds. In 2011, 16% of newly recruited officers were from BME backgrounds.

Scotland Yard also looks very different if you take a broader view of policing. The Met points out that 30% of its Police and Community Support Officers (PCSOs) come from BME backgrounds, while 27% of special constables recruited in 2011 were classed likewise.


While David Lammy might have overstated the size of London's ethnic minority population in terms of how it is commonly understood, he is right that the proportion of Metropolitan Police officers who come from similar backgrounds is much smaller. While 10% of officers are currently considered to be BME, the proportion has increased over recent years, and is much higher for special constables and PCSOs.

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