“There was complete silence…the other trainees had never seen a black police officer before”
As we celebrate Black History Month former officer and now member of police staff Eric Edwin writes about his experiences joining the force.
I started at the force when I was 18 in 1978, as one of Bedfordshire Police’s first black male police officers. I followed in the footsteps of our first black female police officer Dahlia Hendrickson (nee Quailey) who joined three years earlier.
I wanted to become a police officer after my father’s first experience of arriving in Britain from St Lucia. He was met with signs in the windows of guest houses saying ‘no blacks, dogs or Irish’ and he was then beaten up. He told me: “If it wasn’t for the police I wouldn’t be here.”
The late 70s was a completely different era compared to today, where racism was totally acceptable. When I went on my induction course in Dorchester there was complete silence when I walked into the canteen for the first time, as the other trainees had never seen a black police officer before.
A lot of black members of the public approached me and couldn’t understand why I would want to be a police officer and some saw me as some kind of traitor for doing so. A lot of white people would often bypass me to speak to my white colleagues. I had to develop a thick skin and learn not pay attention to the negative comments.
Thankfully as time went on attitudes changed, as society became more inclusive and I would like to believe today black officers no longer face the verbal/physical abuse that was common place in the 70s and 80s.
Towards the end of the 80s I even started encountering young black people who wanted to join the force. I’d like to think I acted as a role model to help encourage them.
One of my first roles as a local beat officer in Luton was to ease the tensions between the African Caribbean community and the police at the Arndale Shopping Centre; groups were being anti-social and shoppers weren’t using the centre.
The fact that I was brought up in the area helped me gain the trust of the African Caribbean community and work with them to help problem solve, but on the downside people knew where I lived there was no getting away from it. It makes sense to have changed the rules so you no longer work in the area you live.
During this time I was seconded up north to help with the miners’ strike on the picket lines, before being brought back to work on the ‘Fox’ case, of a masked man who terrorised men and women in their homes and was dubbed the Fox due to his elusive nature. The crimes started in Bedfordshire and then moved to Yorkshire, sparking a nationwide manhunt. He was eventually arrested, charged and sentenced to 82 years in prison.
I then moved to CID and later what was known as the South East Regional Crime Squad in the mid 90s, where I specialised in covert policing. I grew dreadlocks to help with my covert role and was unrecognisable as a clean shaven police officer.
In 2008 I retired as a police officer and came back to work for the Eastern Region Special Operations Unit (ERSOU) as a member of police staff.
Looking back I really enjoyed my time as an officer and I’m just glad that things are different now for black police officers starting their careers.