PC Halepota is a participant on our National Graduate Leadership Programme and has been in the role for just over a year. Here he talks to us candidly about some of the fears and challenges he faced joining the police as a Pakistani Muslim and why he broke significant boundaries to change the story from the inside.
Police Constable Sami Halepota
“Joining the police as a Pakistani Muslim was a challenge. People in that community, myself included, view the police from an angle of fear. That’s linked to post 911 environment where Muslims are instantly seen as suspects. For example, you go to the airport and you get stopped for no reason, or you have the thing on the train ‘see it, say it, sort it’, and you look at yourself and you think, ‘are they looking at me?’
Coming from that community was a challenge and a lot of people didn’t understand why I would do it. Why would you join the police? But coming in, you get to see a different side to it. Obviously, there are challenges, but there’s always two sides to a story and I personally would rather come in and give a voice inside that institution than be on the outside and fear it.
My family were very supportive of me joining the police, they were very proud of me for doing it, which was a bit of a surprise to me. But I was quite scared of telling a lot of my friends that I had joined the police, and when I did they were like – ‘woah, why would you do that, have you joined the other side?!’ But I went on to explain to them my motivations for joining, especially explaining the Police Now vision of the neighbourhood role and how you can make a difference to people’s lives, and they did understand. And people that are your friends, they do understand at the end of the day. It was a challenge coming in, but there’s always two sides to every story, so you’ve got to come in and see what it is.
Coming into the job, one of my reservations was the lack of ethnic minority representation in the police. I was quite scared before joining and I remember I had reached out to my Leadership Development Officer [an assigned officer who offers support and development opportunities for Police Now participants]. I was scared that I was going to face racism inside the police, that I wasn’t going to be accepted. He was really great. It was the start of our professional relationship, he was very supportive, very encouraging.
He gave me a realistic picture of what it was going to be like. You know, obviously there are going to be issues, but it depends on how you engage with it. One thing he said to me was ‘not everyone needs to always like you.’ There are always going to be some people who are not going to like you and you can’t change that, but in the end the thing that matters is what you do, the work you do. People will receive that positively. I’ve definitely seen that in the year I’ve been in Surrey police.
I have faced situations where I have been uncomfortable, but I’ve also been able to have discussions and challenge people. As a result, I’ve had people come up to me and say to me ‘oh I didn’t think about it like that. You telling me that perspective has actually changed my view’. It is challenging, but at the end of the day, because of that, and because of wanting to do something, I’ve gained a lot of opportunities. I’ve been allowed into places and platforms where I can actually make a difference.
I’ve been involved with the Surrey Police Association for Cultural Ethnicity, which is our ethnic minority staff network. I’ve become the General Secretary, following work I did relating to BLM. This is basically a community to provide a sense of belonging or a sounding board to any ethnic minority staff who might be facing difficulties at work, who might be wanting advice regarding promotions, who might be wanting support with disciplinary actions, or any everyday experiences they might have.
Yes it’s hard, and it’s challenging, but I was interested in working through all of that to get here. Here I am, a year into the job, and I still look at myself in uniform in the police car and I think ‘is that really true?’ But yeah, here I am! In addition to the policing role, I’m building my own knowledge, experience and skills over these two years. I can already say that I am much more confident and more relaxed in different situations, I can get on in a variety of situations and I work more effectively.”