Janet Hills reflects on women in policing. Janet is a Detective Sergeant in the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS). She is the first Female Chair of the Metropolitan Black Police Association and was also the National Black Police Association President from 2015-2017.
How many times have you watched television or heard a positive story about a black female in policing?
Growing up I never saw this and I didn’t even know there were black females that looked like me in policing. My role models growing up were my Mum, who was a single parent bringing up five children and my older brother, who joined the police force during the early 80’s. That was my pathway in knowing that it was ok for a black person to join.
On the buses
Prior to joining the police, I worked on the buses. I joined London Transport on leaving school as part of their Youth Training Scheme (YTS). I spent a year working in different departments including HR and the underground, which were all under the same umbrella at 55 The Broadway, Westminster. At the end of the scheme I decided that I preferred the operational side of things, so I became a bus conductor and started at Thornton Heath Bus Garage. I was only 18 and the youngest person there amongst all these people that could have been my parents. I quickly worked through the ranks becoming a bus driver at 19, again one of the youngest drivers because the law had changed to allow for civilians who where not part of the Armed Forces to become public service vehicle licence holders. I started by driving the old Route Masters with a conductor on the back, then swiftly moved on to become a one person driver like they have today.
By the age of 21, I was a Revenue Inspector where my role was to check passenger tickets. It was whilst working as an Inspector that I got more of an insight into policing, as we would do operations with the police when checking tickets. Back then, people would alter their paper travel cards, which is an offence of fraud, hence, the working partnership with the police. At least three people within my team left to join the police and said that I should to. As my brother was already a police officer I thought it would be a good idea.
Joining The Met
I joined the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) on the 19th August 1991 and after my 20 weeks residential training course at Hendon Training School, I was posted to Brixton. It was scary as I didn’t know much about the area because I was a ‘Croydon girl’ and hadn’t been to the area at all. We were able to choose where we would like to be posted as we were not allowed to work in our home area, so the closest place to me was Brixton. Back then there were very few Black and Asian officers in policing – we made up about 3% of the workforce.
I worked at Brixton for 15 years in a number of different departments, which kept me occupied and engaged in the job that I was doing. So even though I’d been apprehensive about going there, I absolutely ended up loving it! The community of Brixton were people that looked like me and I really enjoyed engaging with them, even the ‘naughty ones’. When I became a Detective Constable (DC) I decided it was time to move and I was posted to Sutton for a couple of years. My next move was to a specialist department that dealt with fraudulent immigration crime such as passports and identity cards. This was also the unit where I became a surveillance officer. It was there that I learned how to drive a police car at high speed when in pursuit with the blue lights and sirens. I love cars, so this was one of the best things that could have happened to me. In 2010, I requested a move back to Brixton on promotion as a Detective Sergeant (DS) and started back as a supervisor in the Criminal Investigation Department (CID).
Met Black Police Association
In 2013, I became the first female Chair of the Metropolitan Black Police Association (MetBPA) and in 2015 became the President of the National Black Police Association (NBPA). At an NBPA meeting in Derbyshire, I was approached by a black female who was a Community Safety Officer. What she said to me has resonated with me to this day – “You’re the first Black female Sergeant that I’ve ever met”. It was then that it dawned on me that there had been very few black women throughout my career in leadership roles.
As I reflected back on my career I realised that, when I started at Brixton, not only was I the only Black person on my team but I was the only Black female at the station. This was the same when I was working in specialist crime and on my return to Brixton as a DS. In fact, it was similar to most places where I had worked or courses that I’d been on that I was the only Black woman.
Black women in policing
I decided to research the visibility of Black women in policing. Over the years, policing has strived to have greater representation, especially for Black and Asian people as well as women. I have seen the number of women in policing increase year on year so that we now make up 30% of the workforce. However, when I drilled down into how many Black women there are I was completely surprised. My research showed that there were at least 7 Forces with no Black female police officers and 3 Forces that didn’t have any Asian women in them, which was shocking to say the least! How could the statistics reflect that, especially since policing was working so hard to recruit Black and Asian members of the community?
Locally, in London women make up over 8,000 officers however, of that group just over a thousand are Black, Asian or of another ethnicity. When I dug a bit deeper I came to realise that I sit in two camps – ‘Black’ and ‘Female’. When counting the figures it is clear to see how Black women have been missed.
The Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) figures showed that out of 4,000 officers – 3,000 of them are men and there are only 1,000 women. So, when counting myself within the gender statistics, I was either a woman or I was Black. There was no visible data recorded for Black women and consequently there is now a gap. The number of Black women within the police service is not the equivalent to our white counterparts and we have become ‘The Invisible Women of Policing’.
However, there HAVE been a number of Black women in policing that have reached the giddy heights but who knew? I know. Black women who have been trailblazers but have never been publicly recognised. They paved the way for women like me to make a career in policing but who are these women?
Patricia Gallan: retired from policing in 2018 and was the most senior Black female reaching the rank of Assistant Commissioner in the MPS; Karen Daber: retired from policing and reached the rank of Assistant Chief Constable in Cambridgeshire.
Police officers are not the only ones that have been leading the way in policing, our police staff have also been in senior leadership roles. Denise Milani: retired from the MPS in 2017 and was the most senior police staff as the Director of Business Change and Diversity; Franstine Jones: was the first police staff member to become the President of the NBPA UK (2013-15) and was my predecessor.
Today in the MPS, we have the most senior Black female in the UK, Commander Dr Alison Heydari, which demonstrates that we do exist and are doing fantastic work within policing. There is still a lot more that needs to be done but as it stands Black women are thriving and striving within the police service and building a future to be proud of.
Header photo: Drop of Light / Shutterstock.com