Why outside candidates may help us defeat crime

The police enforce the law. That power brings great responsibility.  The British way is for that power to be exercised through policing by  consent.

That consent is even more important in the context of  Britain's diverse society. August's riots underlined the importance of  building and keeping trust in policing. We saw how much communities rely  on the police and, as people came together in the clear-up, we saw  active consent and public participation helping the police to restore  and maintain law and order.

To fight crime successfully, the law  needs to be applied even-handedly and with real understanding of the  needs of all our communities. Equality - always important - is  particularly vital for policing.

Over the past decade forces  have made great strides, with more women and more members of ethnic  minorities becoming officers. We have a strong legal framework that  supports equality; links with communities are better. But there is a  long way to go. We need new thinking and new approaches.

Fighting  hate crime is a good example of where huge progress has been made, but  where there is more to do - particularly in relation to people with  disabilities. Hate crime has a severe effect on the individual, but the  fear can affect whole communities. The more a force knows about the  needs of its communities, the better it will be able to fight these  crimes.

While numbers of female and ethnic-minority police  officers have increased, there is more to be done if police forces are  to reflect and fully understand the communities they serve. The  challenge is particularly acute at the senior ranks: about 220 chief  officers form the upper leadership of our police forces. Only 38 of them  are women, and only three are from ethnic minorities. The top  leadership of policing looks very different from the general public.

Police  staff roles, including at senior levels, are already open to entrants  from outside the service and many forces benefit from the fresh  perspectives they bring. But currently the only way to become a police  officer is to join as a constable. Only one career path for police  officer positions means that the range of perspectives is limited. The  female and ethnic minority officers who have joined over the past decade  will not be in contention for chief officer posts until the 2020s.

We  need police leaders with the operational skills and experience to take  high-risk decisions and command police and public confidence. But if an  outside candidate can offer something different, we should consider new  ways of building the operational skills they need, including more  effective fast-tracking of talent.

Tom Winsor is looking at the  potential for entry at different ranks in his independent review of  police terms and conditions. There is a range of views about these  issues, but it is time to have a sensible debate.

Promoting  equality and diversity in policing cannot be addressed by box-ticking -  it requires a cultural change. These are not marginal issues, they are  central to ensuring that police forces are equipped to fight crime  effectively. We need police forces to be open to all and attractive to  the best.

Nick Herbert is Minister for Policing; Chief Constable Stephen Otter leads for the Association of Chief Police Officers on equality and diversity

Christopher N Howarth