Achieving representative levels of police officers from black and minority ethnic (BME) communities will take a decade, a Holyrood committee has been told.
Chief Superintendent John McKenzie said Police Scotland had “made a start” on its mission to boost BME recruits, but admitted it was a 10-year journey.
At present, only 1% of officers are BME, while the percentage of people in Scotland from minority ethnic groups stands at 4%.
However 10% of the latest batch of new officers are BME with the same percentage expected in the next two groups, Chief Supt McKenzie told the Justice Sub-Committee on Policing.
He said the force had put in place a number of initiatives aimed at boosting representation, in order that it better reflects Scotland’s population.
A positive action team has been set up to provide support to people from under represented groups who are considering a career in policing.
“It is a starting point for Police Scotland, because this is going to be a 10-year journey when you start looking at the numbers,” Chief Supt McKenzie said.
“We have to continue with this for a number of years. We have to ensure there is continuous professional development.
“This isn’t just a numbers game of how many people we can get in the door, this is a long-term approach of development and ensuring that the ranks across Police Scotland are representative of communities.”
The Coalition for Racial Equality and Rights (CRER) said the lack of representation had a knock-on effect across the criminal justice system, including how BME communities perceive Police Scotland, and how police officers engage with and act towards BME individuals and groups.
It also contributes to the perception of institutional racism within the force, the organisation said.
Carol Young, senior policy officer at CRER, said the issue was broader than the police, adding: “The evidence that we’ve set out and have been setting out for a long time, on most of Scotland’s public services, if not all of them, indicates an element of institutional racism.
“I think with recent moves forward not just within Police Scotland’s own practice but within the activity under the Race Equality Framework for Scotland… I am hopeful that further down the line we will come to see what all this effort has actually led to.”
Chief Supt McKenzie said CRER’s judgement was “not reflective” of feedback from other organisations.
But he added: “We are a listening organisation, if agencies and partners believe that there are issues that exist, it is for us to listen.”