Opportunities and obstacles: A critical exploration of the experience of promotion of ethnic minority police officers in a UK police constabulary

Research Institution / Organisation

University of Leicester

In Collaboration With

Leicestershire Police

Principal Researcher

Lauren Hampton

Level of Research


Project Start Date

April 2021

Research Context

Diversity among police officers is much lower than that of the general population with the police services currently having 7.3% of officers from an ethnic minority background compared to the general population which is made up 14.0% ethnic minority. This underrepresentation has been a point for improvement in the MacPherson report so, despite a slight increase in the workforce over the year, there is still a considerable way to go. In particular, the diversity among officers above the rank of constable is much lower, the percentage of officers at the rank of Sergeant is 5.1%, at Inspector 5%, and among senior officer at 4.3% in comparison to the 7.9% of ethnic minority officers at constable rank. This demonstrates that despite there already being an underrepresentation among ethnic minority officers, this gets much worse in those higher-ranking positions. Therefore, despite improvements in representation since the MacPherson report, there are still some advances to be made, which this research will address.

This provides a backdrop to why this research is being conducted. Despite calls for change since the MacPherson report, diversity within the police and tensions with ethnic minority communities continue. With there being particularly fewer ethnic minority police officers in the rank of sergeant and inspector, this research will explore the experiences of promotion for ethnic minorities within the police to establish any opportunities and obstacles that could be preventing greater diversity.

This research aims to inform improvements and advance our understanding of the experiences and potential barriers and differences that ethnic minority officers face in their promotion journey within the police service.

The central objectives of this academic research are to:

  • Identify the barriers that are preventing more ethnic minority officers of sergeant or inspector rank within the police force 

  • Evaluate critically the policies, practices, and experiences of ethnic minority officers that could be preventing greater diversity of ethnic minority sergeants or inspectors within the police force 

  • Explore ethnic minority sergeants’ or inspectors’ views and experiences of going for promotion

  • Formulate recommendations for the police service to improve the promotion of ethnic minority sergeants or inspectors

Research Methodology

This research will use semi-structured interviews to gather qualitative data (Bryman, 2015). A semi-structured interview has a direction and purpose, with the researcher and participant having a dynamic relationship. This approach will be most appropriate as part of the occupational culture of the police service means they might be resistant to academia, plus the internal solidarity and loyalty to the organisation and other officers, could mean they do not want to answer truthfully as they do not want to show the service in a negative light (Reiner, 2010). Thereby using semi-structured interviews, the researcher will be able to build a better rapport with the participant which should help overcome any resistance. This research approach is most apt as the aim to establish any potential barriers and differences requires in-depth and authentic data to be gained from ethnic minority police officers. This research will be based on the ontological philosophy of social constructivism and the epistemological paradigm of interpretivism (Ratner, 2002). The police service, ontologically speaking, exists within a society constructed by their experiences and shaped by an institution that uses legitimate power on the public (Lawson, 2014).

Since this research is looking to explore data from ethnic minority police officers about their experience and motivations for going for promotion, it aims to interview a total of fifteen people due to the practicability with an MSc research project which has greater time restrictions. The researcher has applied for ethical approval from a regional police research board who will grant permissions and access to a particular police constabulary and provide a gatekeeper. Participants will be selected through purposive quota sampling as the researcher wants ten of these to be serving police officers, five at sergeant rank and another five at inspector rank. Then the remaining five will be police staff working in the Diversity and Inclusion unit who are stakeholders and will provide knowledge on the policies and practices within the police service.

The framework for analysis for this research is inductive thematic analysis. Thematic analysis allows the researcher to identify, analyse, organise, describe and present themes within data (Braun & Clarke, 2006). An inductive approach to theme identification allows the researcher to develop themes from the data collected (Braun and Clarke, 2006). This allows for a broader and wide analysis of all the data (Braun and Clarke, 2006). There are six phases to this method: familiarising yourself with the data, generating initial codes, searching for themes, reviewing the themes, defining and naming the themes, and lastly, writing the report (Nowell, Norris, White, & Moules, 2017). The findings will also be sent back to participants for their confirmation that the report represented a true account of their experiences (McKeganey and Bloor, 1981).

Date due for completion

October 2021
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