Black History Month: Celebrating Northamptonshire Police’s heroes
When an intruder tried to break into his mother’s home, it was the driving force behind Andrew Walker joining the police.
In 2006 Andrew, who was in his mid-40s, was working in security having been employed in jobs ranging from DIY to management. He was driving to work when he received a frantic call from his mother, telling him someone was trying to get into her flat through her window. Immediately he turned his car around and began to drive back to his mother’s aid.
A few moments later, he was informed that his mother had beaten the intruder away with her walking stick, because, as he puts it, “you don’t mess with West Indian mothers!”
Although Andrew was not needed that day, he realised that incidents like this happen to vulnerable people like his mother every day, and he wanted to help prevent that.
“That drove me to Northamptonshire Police, where I joined as PCSO and it was brilliant,” he said. “Within two months of joining, I had applied to join the regular officers.”
However, as of March 2019, according to government statistics, there were just 11 black police officers in Northamptonshire Police – that’s just 0.9% of the force.
Under-representation in the UK Police Force has been a problem for years, as has the racism they must endure as part of their job.
However, this summer, the Independent Office for Police Conduct also launched an investigation into the disproportionate use of police powers which impacts on confidence in policing, particularly in Black Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) communities.
“I’m from Brixton, I’ve heard every bad word under the sun, ” Andrew said. “And that includes racial abuse. But it wasn’t always from white members of the community, it was also from black members of the community.
“Some of them are of the view that I, as a black man joining the police, am somehow ‘joining the other side’ and working for ‘the man’.
“Things like the Black Lives Matter movement are calling out the system and sometimes that makes me question my role: am I black man who is a police officer? Or am I a police officer who is black? Some people find it hard to grasp that you can be both.”
So how does he deal with the abuse he receives from members of the community in Northamptonshire?
“I am the only black officer on my team, so of course I’m going to stand out,” he said. “But the force have been very supportive. I am well aware of what support is available to me, but thus far, I’ve never had to use it.”
Only last week, as reported by Northants Live, a man was arrested for alleged racial abuse at Northampton Railway Station.
Efforts are being made by Northamptonshire Police to redress the balance and make it a more inclusive and welcoming environment.
In 2019, they launched their Diversity, Equality and Inclusion Strategy to create “an inclusive environment which promotes and supports inclusivity and respect” and “develop a culture that supports our communities and partners and celebrates all aspects of diversity”.
Ultimately, Northamptonshire Police aspires to be “a working environment that is free from discrimination, harassment, bullying and victimisation”.
Andrew believes that educating black people from a young age about what opportunities are available to them and planting the seed of working for the police early in their lives is the answer to better representation in the force.
“We have got to work hard to attract people to the force,” he said. “We need to make information available and put it out there.”
PC Walker has been a member of the Black Police Association for many years and was recently appointed to the board of the Police Federation.
Members of the BAME community have become increasingly aware that they may be the subject of tokenism, and only being offered certain jobs and promotions because of the colour of their skin. But this is irrelevant to PC Walker.
“It’s not something that has ever been verbalised to me or something I have ever felt,” he said. “I joined the board after being asked to do so. It was a unanimous vote in my favour and now there is a black representative for police officers in Northamptonshire.”
Although Andrew admits that sometimes the changes in racial equality in institutions like the police can be “frustratingly slow”, it is good to see changes being made in organisations like Northamptonshire Police.
He added: “I am showing that there are doors open to black people in the emergency services, and that those doors are much wider now than they used to be.”