Celebrating difference and the diverse contribution of people with disabilities

Inspector Tracy Betts is hoping to inspire change nationally in her new role as Interim President of the Disabled Police Association

She’s passionate about making Essex Police and policing in general more diverse and inclusive to reflect the communities we serve. So Inspector Tracy Betts was a perfect fit when the Disabled Policing Association was seeking a new president. And she’s hoping to inspire change nationally.

“I feel privileged that people have trusted me with such an important role. It’s given me the opportunity to influence people for the good of my policing colleagues nationally and to have a positive impact on policing.”

And this Purple Light Up Day – December 3 which is also International Day for Persons with Disabilities – Tracy says it’s all about celebrating difference.

“That’s the biggest message. Particularly cognitive difference, so, the way we think and learn. It’s not just about supporting people with a disability or a difference or a difficulty, it’s about celebrating the diversity they can bring to our Forces.

“People think you have to be registered disabled or you have to have a physical disability but it is anything which impacts on your day-to-day life. And it doesn’t have to be permanent. You may be disabled and not realise you are disabled. So it’s about understanding what disability really means and then being able to help yourself, work colleagues, friends and family to be the best you and they can be.”

And it’s in the area of police recruitment and retention of officers and staff which Tracy feels the Disabled Police Association can play a major part, alongside other national staff associations such as the National LGBT+ Police Network and the National Black Police Association.

“As a police service, we need to be able to move forward and we need to be able to change policing in the light of the way our communities think and rebuild those relationships that have been damaged in the past few years.

“For example, we’ve got a lot of young people coming into Essex Police who are much more open in talking about difference. People may come into the Force with assessments for autism and dyslexia or they are neurodivergent in another way, such as ADHD, OCD or Tourette’s. These are things we are understanding about more all the time.

“And that’s just ‘invisible disability’, the disabilities people don’t see. There are visible disabilities, and sensory impairment as well. But we have people with lived experience throughout the force who are here to help them.

“As a Force, we don’t get it right all the time, but we are committed to being able to change. And that’s the wonderful thing – to be able to change and evolve. This is reflected in the fact that the Essex Police is a Disability Confident Leader organisation.”

The DPA represents disability networks in the 43 police forces of England and Wales. It is consulted at the highest national level – including the Home Office and the National Police Chiefs’ Council – helping to change the way forces recruit, retain and develop their police officers and staff.

And it has been heavily involved in the Police Uplift Programme. This set out to recruit 20,000 police officers between summer 2019 and March 2023 – about 15% of the national workforce.

“The DPA has been pivotal, communicating the lived experiences of police officers and staff to the decision-makers, in a practical way. It’s made a massive amount of change in the past three years and I want that to continue.

“We’ve never had such a good opportunity to change the face of policing nationally.”

Tracy says it’s not just about supporting people with disabilities with reasonable adjustments, it’s about understanding what disability means. And all the national policing staff associations have worked with the College of Policing to ensure recruitment criteria mean we get the most diverse candidates coming forward.

“Record numbers of women, Black, Asian and minority ethnicities and people with disabilities have applied to join police forces over the past year. So it’s been effective. This is so important because we need to represent the communities we serve. If we don’t, they aren’t going to recognise themselves in the police.

Unfortunately, the police service has lost the trust and confidence of some communities and we need to rebuild it.”

A career detective for much of her 27 years in policing, Tracy joined Bedfordshire Police in 1995, transferring to Essex three years later.

Her ‘day job’ is now managing our Professional Assessment Team, helping to ensure every sergeant and inspector who is promoted into the role is supported and assessed during their first year in their new job.

She has also chaired the Essex Police Disability and Carers’ Network. Tracy is diagnosed with dyslexia and has other neurodivergent traits. She also has some physical health conditions, which fit into the definition of disability.

But she doesn’t fit into just one category.

“There are lots of parts of me. I’m not just a female police officer, I’m a female menopausal disabled police officer. I’m a mother and a grandmother and I also follow a faith so I have protected characteristics.

“So when we are looking at our policies and procedures to be able to recruit people, develop them and retain talent, the skills and knowledge we need as a service, we’ve got to make sure that we appeal to every part of them not just one aspect.

“We need to look at the whole.”

For more information on police recruitment and the support offered by the DPA, visit the police recruitment hub at joiningthepolice.co.uk

This article originally appeared on the Essex Police website – it is reproduced here with kind permission of the author