PRESS RELEASE: Statement on Marcus Potter and Norfolk Constabulary

Bristol, UK: The UK National Police Autism Association (NPAA) is aware of recent interactions between Norfolk Constabulary and Marcus Potter, leading to the recent remand in custody of Mr. Potter for breach of a Criminal Behaviour Order and subsequent bail conditions. Mr. Potter’s situation has been discussed on Twitter and other social media platforms.

A CBO is only issued by a court following a criminal conviction, and there are sufficient safeguards in place throughout the criminal justice system to ensure that the vast majority of people with autism are treated fairly.

While the NPAA can’t comment on individual cases, it is important that individuals of the autism spectrum are dealt with appropriately according to their needs when coming into contact with the criminal justice system. Due to communication issues and difficulty regulating emotion, autistic people are vulnerable regardless of their age or station in life, and should be treated as such.

NPAA spokesman Adam O’Loughlin commented: “Having autism is not an excuse for criminal or anti-social behaviour. However the NPAA advocate that there is a need for the outward traits displayed by many autistic people to be recognised by all criminal justice agencies, and for appropriate safeguarding measures to be put in place.” Many police forces, with the support of the NPAA are ensuring that their front line officers are sufficiently trained.

About us: The NPAA is an independent body supporting UK police officers, staff and volunteers who are affected by autism spectrum condition (ASC), Asperger syndrome, and other neurodiverse conditions such as dyslexia, dyspraxia, ADHD and depression – either personally or as carers for family members. We welcome all police personnel with a personal or professional interest in these conditions.

The year of the ‘A’ word

2017 has been an exciting and at times difficult year for all of us in the NPAA. To start with, our initial goal of embedding a coordinator in every UK Force came to pass, which for a young organisation like us is a massive achievement. We move into 2018 with the firm goal of increasing our awareness further, both nationally and now internationally. Some of our early coordinators have stepped down for various reasons. They leave us with our best wishes and we hope they remain close friends.

2017 also saw the inaugural NPAA national coordinators meeting at BTP headquarters in London. (On a personal note, it also contained what I think was the best use of a word this year – ‘inveigled’ – thanks Mai!) The fact that Deputy (now Acting) Chief Constable Janette McCormick took time out of her incredibly busy schedule to join us for the day speaks volumes as to how seriously many Chief Officers take our work. One of the challenges we all face in 2018 is to continue to keep ourselves in the forefront of their minds.

Che Donald (Police Federation) and Janette McCormick (NPCC Disability Lead) with NPAA Coordinators at
British Transport Police HQ, London, June 2017

There have been pockets of outstanding practice all over the UK, of which there is too much to mention here. However special mention has to go to Cheshire Constabulary, West Midlands Police and West Yorkshire Police, which all made it into the top 20 inclusive UK employers for 2017 – no small achievement. Many of the best and most forward-thinking employers are waking up to the fact that people on the neurodiversity spectrum have very specific skills which can be exploited. Let’s hope policing isn’t far behind.

Our web forum has also continued to grow, now up to over 600 members at time of writing. If you work for a police force, a charity or in the public sector, you are probably eligible to join – take a moment to register, the breadth of topics makes it an essential resource for anyone needing support or information on our work.

2017 was perhaps the year that autism finally made into mainstream consciousness. It was almost impossible to turn the TV on without seeing a programme specifically about the topic such as Atypical or the wonderful A Word, or find characters who would almost certainly get a diagnosis in real life in other programmes. Chris Packham’s documentary was one of the braver things I’ve watched, uncomfortable viewing as it was at times. My only concern is that while it’s great from an entertainment perspective to watch characters with a very specific skill set, it’s perhaps the case that the difficulties we all face are glossed over. Many companies and businesses have started to offer autism-friendly services, such as Asda and the Glasgow ice rink which is a very welcome step in the right direction.

Moving into 2018, many of us will be involved in either creating or delivering awareness training to our colleagues, which is no small task considering we all have day jobs. Training shared is training halved in our view, so if you do create any training materials, do please share them with us. We work closely with the Disabled Police Association which continues to go from strength to strength, and we share their goal of disability being treated equally alongside visible diversity by the Home Office and College of Policing. It will be interesting to see what happens next year.

In the meantime, we wish you a happy, safe and most importantly quiet Christmas, whether you’re working or at home.

Adam O’Loughlin
Communications Officer

Guest Blog: The futile quest

The Police Service’s Search for Diversity and Inclusion

Brian Langston, retired Assistant Chief Constable and former member of the NBPA Executive writes that the current quest for representative ‘identity’ diversity in the police service is misguided and unachievable and it should be replaced with ‘cognitive’ diversity.

The Mirror Crack’d

Throughout the whole of my police service from 1980 to 2010, I lived through an obsession with creating a workforce which was representative of the community. Countless millions have been spent on well-intentioned initiatives aimed at making the police service a mirror of the community it serves. Despite an unprecedented number of measures including setting targets for the percentage of BME officers in forces, positive action programmes and more recently, direct entry, the impact has been negligible.

Noble-cause corruption has led to positive discrimination being taken to meet targets and rows continue to abound regarding the actual or perceived lowering of standards in order to increase the diversity of the police service. This has created tension in the workplace and fuelled suspicion within our communities. The results have also been underwhelming. The BME percentage of the police service currently sits at 5.5% compared with the UK population as a whole of 14%. In the Metropolis the community is 40% BME, a level at which the Met, despite its best efforts will never match.

At Chief Officer level ethnic diversity is close to extinction with just 1% of the total within the NPCC from minority backgrounds. Many of the half dozen BME Chief officers are due to retire, with no immediate successors coming in their wake.

Although the situation has improved since the landmark Stephen Lawrence Inquiry in 1999 when 2% of the service was BME compared to 6.5% of the population, it is does not represent a viable return on investment. The police service is chasing a moving target and the gap is widening as the population becomes ever-more diverse.

The Flawed Premise

Why have the collective efforts of one of the greatest ‘can-do’ cultures in public service, failed to solve this intractable problem? It is because the premise upon which it is based in fundamentally flawed. The police do not have to be representative of the community they serve – at least not in terms of ‘identity’ diversity. The concept of having a ‘rainbow’ police service perfectly mirroring the community is unrealistic, unachievable and unnecessary. it is a throw-back to a 1960s view that the way to tackle discrimination is to co-opt minorities into organisations to change attitudes. This may have had some value in the mid 20th century but is an unworkable tactic to deal with the complexity of today’s society.

The search for the Holy Grail of representative diversity is doomed to fail in the way it is currently being pursued. The so-called six strands of diversity have driven police policy for a generation. The government only recognises race, gender, sexual orientation, disability, religion and age as examples of legitimate diversity but this is shallow and superficial and misses the point completely about attitude and what is referred to as ‘cognitive diversity’.

Taking race as an example to illustrate the point. How many of the currently serving BME officers in the UK have specialist language skills, enhanced cultural and religious awareness or high levels of community and victim empathy? The answer: no-one knows because these factors are not considered relevant enough to record centrally – and yet surely it is these very qualities which are considered desirable? Surprisingly neither do these factors form part of the recruitment criteria where the emphasis has been solely on ethnicity.

Will simply having the requisite proportion of police officers of the ‘right’ shade on a government colour chart, really create a better police service? Probably not and yet this has been the government policy for over 30 years, an obsession with melanin over mindset.

Serving Infinite Diversity

How can the ranks of the police possibly represent the full diversity of humankind?

What of the growing numbers of communities from all around the world who are making their homes in the UK who cannot be distinguished by something as obvious as their skin colour? How are the interests of the homeless, the mentally ill, the drug-dependent, the teenage parents, the deaf and partially sighted, the bed-ridden, going to be represented within the ranks of the police? How many other infinite layers of social, political, religious and economic diversity exist in the modern world? Are we really going to chase them too and beat up our police when they fail?

The police services does not need to reflect the community it serves in identity but in attitude. The reason why ethnic minority communities want ethnic minority police officers is because they believe, and not without reason, that white officers are more likely to discriminate against them. If they believed that they would be treated fairly by all police officers, the colour of the cop would be irrelevant in the same way that hospital patients rarely dwell on the ethnicity of their surgeon.

Diversity is more than Skin Deep

Far more relevant is what Professor Scott Page of the University of Michigan calls ‘cognitive diversity’. This relates not to skin colour or other ‘identity’ diversity, but to mental attitude. Cognitive diversity explains why there are thousands of white police officers held in the highest regard by minority communities. These are the people who have high levels of emotional intelligence, self-awareness and empathy. They are able to quickly build a rapport with the person in front of them, regardless of their background and develop a level of trust which transcends the suspicion with which they may initially be viewed.

We have all encountered officers who have this ‘gift’ for breaking down stereotypical social barriers and instilling confidence – and it has nothing to do with race. These are the people you want to turn up when you are in crisis. They are the ones who identify with your situation on a human level. They feel the pain in your heart and shape their service accordingly.

Officers should be recruited on the basis of their levels of emotional intelligence and not on the basis of any of the strands of diversity. To have officers of the right mindset and attitude in the first place, will ultimately obviate the need to represent any minority by adopting quotas. Even if the percentage of BME police officers did miraculously match the national average, there is no guarantee that public trust and confidence would be any higher, because diversity is more than skin deep. If those BME officers do not have the right attitude or cognitive diversity (and it does not come automatically with the skin colour), then we are no further forward.

Emotional intelligence is not a component of current police recruitment and is only currently tested during the selection processes for Chief Officer by which time it is too little too late. This could also explain why emotional intelligence is not found in abundance in the senior ranks of the service at the present time.

Off the Wall versus Off the Shelf

Cognitive diversity allows people to think differently and break away from the mould and shape their service in a way which will enhance people’s lives.

It is the polar opposite to the command and control culture which has dominated the police service for the past century and a half. These are the ‘wicked thinkers’ who are not bound by standard operating procedures but think laterally, creatively and flexibly and tailor a bespoke resolution for specific problems rather than look for a one-size-fits-all solution.

In order to inject much-needed innovation, the service needs to adopt the policy of hiring for attitude and training for skill, but we do not need to start from scratch. The British police service is a world-class organisation in terms of its commitment and dedication to the public. Contrary to popular belief, police officers are not all the same. Within their ranks lies a rich seam of great diversity of thought which is all too often constrained by policy, politics and the press. Ironically their cognitive diversity is frequently inhibited by political correctness leaving them fearful of being accused of the latest ‘ism’.

Even at senior levels, officers are so weary of being under the diversity cosh that they keep their heads down, noses clean, and hope by not mentioning the ‘D’ word, they won’t make a career-limiting gaffe. In fact the opposite is true, diversity should be openly discussed in the streets, workplaces and canteens and not driven underground. It should be recognised for the valuable resource it is, far wider than the traditional approach to diversity, and a source of infinite innovation and creativity. It is the antidote to the often monolithic aspects of the police culture where the status quo rarely yields to originality.

Rather than continue to berate the service for a lack of progress on diversity and set ever more stretching targets, which only serve to dissipate energy, the new Home Secretary should adopt a much broader understanding of the problem than her predecessors have hitherto done. It is time to stop the futile chase of the ‘six identity strands’ and the abandon the mythical quest of a fully representative police service. The service needs governmental support to shake off the shackles and embrace a broader and more meaningful approach, utilising emotional intelligence and cognitive diversity to unleash talent and shape a more responsive service for British society.


Brian Langston QPM LLb(Hons) MBA is a writer and consultant on leadership and diversity. He was formerly Assistant Chief Constable (Operations) for Thames Valley Police and the architect of a pioneering approach to managing community tension and operationalising diversity. He has previously served on the National Executive of the NBPA and the Superintendents’ Association and has been an advisor to the Home Office, the police service and the business community on race and diversity.

This article was previously published on LinkedIn in September 2016. It has been reproduced here with permission of the author.


The Difference – Prof Scott Page, Princeton University Press 2007
Diversity as a source of competitive advantage – Brian Langston, Reading University Press 2004