The outgoing President of the Disabled Police Association has been honoured on his retirement with the award of the Queen’s Police Medal, in a ceremony at Buckingham Palace on the 3rd March.
Superintendent Simon Nelson first joined Sussex Police in December 1993. In 2017 he was appointed to the DPA Executive Committee as Vice-Chair, and took over the role of President from Dr Robert Gurney in 2020.
Inspector Tracy Betts, DPA Interim President, commented: “My DPA colleagues and I are delighted that Simon’s long service and tireless work in promoting disability in policing have been recognised. We wish Simon a long and happy retirement.”
Simon continues his work in support of diversity at the College of Policing, where he joins this month as a Senior Advisor to the Diversity & Inclusion Team. ∎
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.”
“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.”
“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.
by Simon Nelson President | Disabled Police Association
The last few weeks of my police service bring me into my last Disability History Month in policing and my final quarterly blog for the DPA and Police Superintendents’ Association. The dynamic and challenging nature of our business offers us little time to pause and reflect, but the last few months have included lots of thoughtful conversations with others, prompting me to remember the many experiences during my 29 years in policing, including the last eight doing what I could to influence better disability inclusion and equality.
Countless things have changed and many of them for the better. When I walked through the gates at Sussex Police HQ in December 1993 (yes, the year after internet dial-up was first available in the UK!) domestic abuse without injury was considered to be a private matter, the age of consent for the gay community was 21 years-of-age, and discrimination due to disability was not illegal. As many of you know, I was diagnosed with cancer 18 years ago, and prior to the 1995 Disability Discrimination Act it was not unusual for those who shared their cancer diagnosis with their employer to be sacked on the spot – in history terms this is recent. Thankfully my Force was supportive, and I have tried to show my gratitude through the many years of commitment that followed.
Just eight years ago, it was not uncommon for key national police communications to list protected characteristics and not include disability. It may not always feel like it, but we have come a long way since then, with disability (including neurodiversity) featuring more within key discussions and a wider understanding of the benefits that come from supporting diverse abilities: developing talent and capacity by supporting what colleagues can do – and often very well – rather than disabling them due to a condition they may have to manage. Building support to sustain capacity will become increasingly important during the particular funding pressures I know policing will experience over the coming years.
The theme for this year’s Disability History Month is ‘Disability, Health and Wellbeing’. This offers an opportunity to understand how determined efforts to address ‘ill health and the non-deployable’ can have a perverse impact on those who have acquired lifelong conditions and have much to contribute – IF they are provided with the right support, and through good leadership. There is also an association between poor line management support for a member of their team living with a disability and the real risk of them experiencing additional mental health issues – supervisors and managers can choose to find solutions or promote exclusion.
During this forthcoming Disability History Month, please also take some time to understand how disability is a lifelong possibility for all and most colleagues, whether they be officers, staff or volunteers, and that those individuals are most likely to acquire or receive a diagnosis during their lives as I did, rather than being born with these conditions. Support the diverse abilities you may one day wish others to value in you.
The trust and confidence of all of our communities is essential and key to our legitimacy, so everyone needs to be behind the Police Race Action Plan, which will also benefit disabled Black colleagues. I have really enjoyed working with other national network leads for diverse groups to ensure intersectional needs are understood, and with suitable support and investment these networks could provide broader support as Business Reference Forums, also advising on the service we offer their diverse communities. I believe that how we value difference within the police service, both in terms of members of protected groups and how others treat them, influences how we then go on to serve diverse communities.
Earlier I mentioned how disability awareness and support is growing, and this is thanks to the efforts of many people I cannot name individually as they would fill this page! Whether you have played a positive part in the history of our Associations in my home Force, on a committee, as a senior leader, at the College of Policing, or have simply taken the time to be supportively curious and have some challenging conversations, I thank you for your voices, interest and time.
Several people have asked me what I will miss the most, and I have always replied, ‘The people’ – so many have been a part in my largely enjoyable time as a police officer. I always did my best for others and for the public; I did not always get it right, but it was always with integrity, a willingness to learn and with the best of intentions.
Keep safe, follow your purpose and create a better history for others. ∎
Inspector Tracy Betts of Essex Police has taken over from Simon Nelson as Interim President, pending the next Annual General Meeting in 2023. The DPA would like to thank Simon for his service, and wishes him a long and happy retirement.