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United Kingdom: British Police Forces To Recruit More Muslim Officers

Britain's police forces are planning to recruit more Muslim officers and staff all over the country. The new drive follows a general improvement in relations between the police and Britain's large Muslim community. Police and Islamic groups are now meeting regularly with each other to ease tensions. As more Muslims join the police, uniforms have been modified to allow female officers to wear headscarves.

London, 30 November 2004 (RFE/RL) -- More Muslim police officers are on the streets in Britain and greater efforts are being made to improve relations between the police and the general Islamic population.

Tim Mahony, spokesman for the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO), said that "we're clear that we're going in the right direction, but we're not content that enough has been done to bring the police and Muslim communities better together. There are a lot of tensions around terrorism, for example, and the way in which police powers are interpreted or perhaps misinterpreted."

Efforts to bring the Muslim community and police closer together were spurred by increasing complaints that Muslims were being targeted by police, and that they were the victims of frequent "stop and search" actions merely on the basis of their appearance.

The hope was that more Muslim police officers and regular dialogue between the police and Muslim groups would help to dispel some of the tensions.

Muslim leaders are cautiously optimistic.

"It's a beginning," said Abdulrahman Jaffar, a representative of the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB), a Muslim group that holds regular discussions with the police. "One cannot say we've reached what is our desired result yet. I think we still have a long way to go. But, I think there are people on both sides who are willing to talk, and who are willing to listen, and who have a genuine intention of doing something at that level. So it is positive."

It's hard to know how far the police have come in integrating their forces, since there are no reliable figures on the numbers of Muslims among police ranks. Mahony said, however, that he's certain progress is being made.

"The representation within the police forces, it's been slow-going. But then assimilation of Muslims into wider communities in this country has in some respects also been slow-going," Mahony said. "But we are making progress, and we are reaching a greater understanding with local communities; also with the national groups. For example, the Muslim Council of Britain and a number of other groups. And, we bring these together under a group known as the Muslim Safety Forum."

The Muslim Safety Forum is an umbrella group with representatives from the main national Muslim organizations. It meets every two months at the national level with senior police officers "to discuss matters of mutual interest and concern."

Jaffar said he believes the Muslim Safety Forum is an important body.

"The MCB has been working very closely with the Forum in tackling a lot of the disproportionality in the actions of the police in terms of stop and search, and in terms of antiterror raids on the community," Jaffar said. "It's also been working very closely with the police, so that the police work more closely with the community, and work with the community rather than against the community."

Mahony stressed that to help recruit more Muslims, even police uniforms have undergone changes.

"The basic police uniform is adapted to take into account diversity and religious affiliation," Mahony said. "For example Sikhs, they wear turbans. The option of a headscarf is available to Muslim women staff, and some choose to use it, and some don't."

Mahony concluded that all this should not only help improve relations between the police and the Muslim community, but also better reflect the multicultural nature of today's Britain.

Jaffar agreed, saying: "Things are moving, I think. Considering where we were, which was quite negative and very backward before, we are making progress. But we still have a long way and a lot of hard work to put into it."