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Peelian principles and supporting those with disabilities

Supt Simon Nelson, President of the Disabled Police Association until last week, spoke with Police Oracle about the importance of recognising disability as a protected characteristic and what that can do for the service in relation to retention and the Peelian principles.

People can think of disability as incongruent to policing, the recent President of the Disabled Police Association (DPA) has said. 

It’s one of the things he has worked hard during his tenure to rectify, as well as ensuring that disability is recognised as a protected characteristic. 

“Previously I have described us as the 'Cinderella' of protected characteristics,” he said. 

“That’s because when I first started in this area, disability wasn’t really being mentioned in some of the diversity, equality and inclusion discussions within policing.

“Around half of disabled conditions concern mobility access. But there’s also those who are neurodivergent or receive a diagnosis or get injured for example.

"Colleagues who are dyslexic may benefit from [something as simple as] having investigators notebooks with yellow pages just to make things faster and easier for them.” 

Sussex Supt Simon Nelson is due to retire from the service this month following 29 years in policing. He has been the President of the DPA since 2020, and was its Vice President before that. He first became interested in the area following his own cancer diagnosis. 

His view now is that progress has been made with regards to supporting those with disabilities, but that further challenges remain.

It is particularly the case since the retirement age has gone up, meaning the likelihood of members of the workforce acquiring a disability has also increased. 

“One of the biggest issues is around the term disability, because the entire focus can lie on what somebody can't do,” Supt Nelson told Police Oracle. 

“Some forces are very supportive and forward thinking around disability and some are not - all their focus is on ill-health, and the assumption that somebody with a disability is going to spend a lot of time absent. 

“[We should move from a focus] on what they can’t do, to a focus on understanding what the challenges are and how we might support them to still serve as they wish to.” 

He clarified that the service will always require a certain mobile capacity - particularly in roles such as public order and firearms. However, reasonable adjustments can mean the service doesn’t lose those with valuable skills and experience. 

“We need to understand this comes back to the Peelian principles as well,” he added.

According to charity Scope, 21% of working age adults are disabled. 

“We're representing our community, same as any other protected group. We are that community and that community is us.

“When you get these comments coming out nationally about the need to focus less on virtue signalling and wokeness - what we're talking about is our communities, we're talking about how we interact, we're talking about trust and confidence and legitimacy. But we're all also talking about colleagues that we work alongside.” 

Supporting colleagues and ensuring they have what they need to work effectively comes down to good leadership and good supervision for Supt Nelson. 

As with other protected characteristics, culture can be an issue and Supt Nelson points to certain nicknames that can be hurtful or offensive. 

He clarified that this is not about “stamping all over good humour” - something he himself has valued across his service, but rather understanding the difference between banter that consolidates someone as part of the team and humour based on someone’s identity or something they cannot change. 

“People smile through, they put up with it and they tolerate it because they want to be included. They want to be part of the team," added Supt Nelson.

Though he stressed that this approach "could relate to any of the other protected differences", Supt Nelson feels there is a difference when it comes to disability.

He said: "Comments on disabilities seem to be tolerated more by supervisors, because I'm not sure it's on the radar the same way as if it was a word associated with sexual orientation or race. And also it is tolerated more by society generally."

“When you see comments on wokeness or virtue signalling - I want to ask those people what they mean. Is it wrong to be building trust and confidence, or to abide by the Peelian principles and reflect our community - to have legitimacy and for them to have the confidence to join us?” 

Supt Nelson explained to Police Oracle that the College are about to publish and circulate a ‘reasonable adjustments’ toolkit which he hopes will encourage consistency between forces and be a “catalyst to changing culture”. 

There is also now the intention that every force will achieve Level 3 in the Disability Confident scheme. Those who achieve this level are given external accreditation, which involves the validation of a self-assessment, and a narrative of activities to be undertaken in support of being a Disability Confident Leader.

Reporting on disability, mental health and wellbeing - via the Voluntary Reporting Framework - is also required.

“My greatest concern is that the police service is going to go through some really challenging times over the next few few years financially,” Supt Nelson said. 

"The temptation then is for diversity, equality and inclusion to be seen as a 'nice to have'."

Supt Nelson believes prioritising the support of those with disabilities is "particularly revelant to uplift" because it will help ensure retention.

He added: "The police service needs people of difference and different thinkers but there's a price with that - you've got to have equity and you've got to support people according to their different needs."

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