Balraj Sohal, Inspector with West Midlands Police and a member of the National Sikh Police Association joined the police in 2006. He talks to us about why he joined, how his Asian heritage has helped him in his career and why more people from different backgrounds should apply.
When did you decide to join the police?
I originally wanted to go into forensics (so still having an interest in law and enforcement) and whilst receiving inputs from the police and having the opportunity to do field work with them during my degree, I realised that I wanted to become a police officer.
What made you want to become a police officer?
So I won’t say that it’s because I used to enjoy watching ‘The Bill’ as a child (but it is one of my favourites). In all seriousness, I'm a Sikh and one of our core values is to help those in need. In fact, many of the values in Sikhism are similar to those of policing. I’ve been inquisitive whilst growing up and always believed in helping others. As I got to learn about policing, I realised that this is what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. Yes, that’s right - this is not just a job for me, it’s a career.
What do you love most about your job?
Every day is varied. I get to work with some great and influential people. My job has allowed me to meet many people from different backgrounds and has really shaped my understanding and appreciation of other cultures. It’s also given me the opportunity to educate my colleagues about my own culture and beliefs.
Most of my career has been frontline and operational, and I really enjoyed the high octane and adrenaline style of policing. No two days are the same and in one shift I would deal with a variety of incidents, ranging from diffusing arguments to administering CPR! I now work as part of a team concentrating on reducing knife crime and serious violence in under 25s. This is very important for me as the work the police and partners are trying to do will shape the future of our children. As a father of three young children, I’m doing my bit to make the community safe.
Any career highlights you can think of where you felt you’d made a real difference to
Every time you have a good result, whether that be at court or knowing that you’ve helped someone in some way is a highlight. Coming home every day knowing that you have made a difference to someone’s life is rewarding and inspiring. I remember a time where concerns were raised by a father in Europe about his daughter, and he didn’t know where she was. Through coordinated police work, my team identified where she was and we were able to remove her from the premises which was being used to exploit her. The feeling of relief and gratitude on her face is something I’ll never forget. She was safeguarded and flew back to her country. I later saw her again during the trial at court and her appreciation of the police was evident. She explained how she had progressed in her life and was building a career for herself. The perpetrators were jailed for a number of years.
What’s it like being an Asian man in the police?
I have the unique opportunity to connect with communities using my diverse communication skills. I’ve been able to educate and explain things to my colleagues on what Asian culture is like and also show them first hand. My background, ethnicity and culture helps me communicate with the community I serve. The area I work in is one of the most diverse areas within the West Midlands Police area and there have been many occasions where I’ve had to attend incidents involving members from similar ethnic backgrounds to mine and the knowledge and understanding I have, and also my ability to converse in different South Asian languages, helps a great deal.
Being an Asian male in the force gives me a sense of pride and accomplishment. British policing is respected all over the world and to be a part of that is amazing.
What do your friends and family think of your career choice?
My family are extremely proud of my career path and my children are excited about the fact that their dad is a police officer. All three of my children see me as a positive role model and that makes me really proud. They understand that it’s a demanding yet very rewarding job.
What would you say are the main barriers that hold ethnic minorities back from applying?
Some people think they may not 'fit in' to organisations like the police service, because of their lifestyle, background, or simply their past experiences. In Asian households, historically the police service may not have been a profession considered - Doctor, Lawyer, Engineer were commonplace as the preferred options.
In addition to this, the perception of racism in the police is a major barrier that I feel puts a lot of people off. However, there's plenty of support available for these issues. If you're determined to join the police, don't let these perceptions stand in the way of your passion to serve the community and fulfil your dreams!
How is discrimination dealt with in the police?
Discrimination is dealt with robustly in the police service. We are actively encouraging and supporting our colleagues to speak up and disclose how they feel and also when they feel discriminated against. West Midlands Police are firmly behind the Diversity and Inclusion agenda and there is a lot of hard work going on in the background to help the police service continuously improve in this area. There’s plenty of support available too in the form of the police federation and staff associations.
Why do you feel diversity in the police force is so important?
We must be representative of the communities that we serve. Diversity in the police not only allows the service to make more informed decisions but it also allows us all to embrace and appreciate difference. Having an effective workforce, great technology, good partnership working and innovative ways of doing business are at the heart of what we do.
What opportunities would you say there are for career progression in the police?
There are definitely many opportunities to progress within the police service. Whether that be lateral progression or vertical. There’s support available for many departments, for example West Midlands Police have a detective academy which supports aspiring detectives to attain the qualifications they need to become a detective. There are other specialist departments that you can apply for and there’s support available to help with these selection processes too.
If you want to get promoted then the Fast Track Constable to Inspector scheme run by the College of Policing could help you. Police constables with strong leadership potential can be successfully fast-tracked to inspector within two years. The application window for the Fast Track programme for serving constables opens in October 2021.
What would you say to encourage other people from Asian communities to join the police?
Recruiting new constables brings an opportunity to employ fresh, new and diverse officers into the police service. The service needs to reflect the communities it serves and now is the right time to bring in new people. As a police constable, you’ll get to learn new skills, meet new people and you will never know what to expect - you might be helping a vulnerable person, or attending the scene of an incident. As well as reducing crime, you’ll help to reduce the fear of crime, inspiring confidence, giving reassurance and really making a difference to the communities we serve. Policing a diverse community isn’t just about being able to use the tools and restraint items on your belt. It’s about understanding and respecting the people on your patch.
It’s a professional organisation with great officers and great knowledge. At the same time, we’re reaching out to members from the ethnic minorities to apply as we are still under represented.
If you are interested or have thought about it even for a minute, please get in touch with your local force to see if they’re recruiting. They'll also be able to answer your questions. If you know people in the police service, reach out to them, have those conversations and ask them the questions you really want answered.
And if you’re ready to apply, I wish you the very best of luck.