Not One of Us?

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Today Sergeant Shirvin Zeinalzadeh is our contributor to the Police Now blog. He joined the Police Now in April as Cohort Communications Officer.

On Saturday 2nd April 2016, Police Now Spring Induction participants were treated to an inspiring talk from Simon Woolley, the founder and director of Operation Black Vote. Simon delivered an excellent speech covering notions of policing, social injustice, crime and the dreaded ‘R’ word, racism.

As I listened to Simon, I cast my mind back to my childhood and onto my enrolment and career within the police. I heard Simon describe how he suffered at the hands of racism and how he fought his way through life as a young black man. During his speech, Simon mentioned his encounters with the police growing up, and this left the audience with goosebumps. Personally, I couldn’t help linking this to my own life experiences, and really related to Simon’s story.

Coming from a diverse heritage, Iranian in my case, I never personally had any encounters with the police, but I did experience the feeling of being different. I still often joke about the length of my surname, and how many points it scores on the Scrabble board, (99 points through a triple word score in case you are wondering), but sitting in a GP’s waiting room and having the name called out, each time with a difference pronunciation, often left me a little red faced as other patients turned to see who this intriguing name belonged to. This experience was reflected on many occasions, but, much like Simon, I became accustomed to it, I never let the hate build up, and in fact, become prouder of my heritage, often using it as an ice breaker.

Following a career in the diplomatic service in which I was in the entourage of a multitude of ethnic backgrounds, races, religions and names, I applied and successfully became a police officer. Prior to this, my knowledge of the police was limited to a few episodes of ‘The Bill’ and ‘Van de Valk’ so it came as quite a surprise to me when I finally began immersing myself into this new world.

Policing London is very much like policing the world – over 300 languages are spoken across London every day and almost every nation on Earth has some interest in London on one form or another. Becoming a police officer was an ideal opportunity to put my diplomatic and language skills to best use. However, a feeling I once had, and one that Simon alluded to, resurfaced. I began to see a separation line and social divide between communities was re-emerging. Coming from a diverse Borough in London, I was lucky enough to work within my own ethnic community in addition to other large communities. The divide came when I noticed the interaction and liaison between the police and other communities was not at all uniform.

This divide frustrated me and I decided to do something about it. Luckily, I had the support of my local Senior Leadership Team and they encouraged me to do challenge the status quo by building bridges between the police and my own community – one who traditionally feared the police. One of our first activities was holding a “Meet the Police Day”. The looks of astonishment from the attendees as the police helicopter landed at the event was a sign of things to come and opened up a whole new chapter in community policing. This initiative was followed by recruitment events specifically for certain under-represented communities. I was happy to see that the divide between the community and the police was becoming thinner, and that I had been able to make a difference.

Simon’s vision at the Spring Induction was one of hope and belief in the role diversity can play in relationships between the police and the community. The Police Now programme aims to deliver just that. By recruiting excellent officers from all types of backgrounds onto the streets with a mission to transform communities and increase confidence in policing, Police Now recruits will interact with the public, break barriers, and bring real change to the way we police leading the way to shattering the divide lines that cause so much hatred and misunderstanding.

Having used my own different background to make a difference, I am equally hopeful. A former colleague of mine described his journey through the police service as ‘not one of us’, but there lies the attitude is destined to fail and create segregation both within and outside the policing family. To one and all, I quote the famous words of Alexandre Dumas and say, ‘one for all, and all for one’. One police service representing one community: the human community!