30 March 2023
A retired senior officer who was one of the first BAME officers to join Derbyshire Police 40 years ago has told how he is now on a mission to use his experience in service to help improve retention, culture and diversity within police forces.
Kul Mahay (56), who left Derbyshire Constabulary in 2015 after 32 ‘wonderful’ years of service has reflected on his career and how his time in the police helped shaped the person he is today.
And how, having since developed a successful career as a leadership and culture specialist, Kul now wants to work with police forces across the country to help shape a better future for officers.
“Looking back to 1983, I was just 16-years-old. I grew up in Wolverhampton, and was one of seven children, living in a small terrace house. Dad wanted us all to be doctors or dentists, but I wanted to be a cop. Well, I am an anti-conformist by nature,” explained father-of-two Kul.
“What inspired me? Can you remember Juliet Bravo? It was a police drama that was way ahead of its time. The central character was a female police inspector, and she was so inspiring - she was everything I stood for. I remember thinking, if she can do that, maybe I can too.
“Some members of my community saw me as ‘going over to the other side’ but my dad came round to the idea pretty quickly.”
Kul reveals how he used to visit his local police station and ask the officers if he could look inside their police cars.
He added: “Every other weekend, the football would be on - and I would sit on the wall nearby, looking at all of the officers, knowing that I wanted to be one of them.”
After braving 26 rejections from the Force, Kul’s dad saw an advert from Derbyshire Police calling for more BAME cadets.
“I got through in 1983 and spent 32 wonderful years in the Force,” Kul continued.
During his career, Kul worked as a sergeant, a custody officer and inspector, heading up the largest station in Derby’s city centre.
Later, he went on to enjoy the roles of detective chief inspector, superintendent and temporary chief superintendent.
He also co-founded and was one of the first vice-presidents of the Black Police Association, supporting BAME colleagues and the police service across the UK.
“I have no doubt in my mind that the police made me the person I am today. Over the 32 years, of course, I had some dark times but, overall, I had some fantastic experiences,” added Kul, who reflects on the ‘scariest moment’ of his career, which saw him being called out to support colleagues in Bradford during the riots in 2001.
“I’d worked nights all week and just sat down to watch the News at 10. I saw the riots, and because I was a trained public order commander, I knew there was a good chance I could be called out to support West Yorkshire Police as part of mutual aid.
“We ended up at a BMW garage which was on fire. There were around 30 cops there and probably around 1,000 young lads, armed with petrol bombs and rocks. All my training was put into practice that day.”
Despite looking back on the past 30 years with such happiness, Kul said it is slightly tarnished due to the lack of change in the service, particularly when it comes to diversity, which he believes is still a real issue.
“Like the vast majority of police officers, I can’t help but be full of pride as I look back on my time in the Force.
“But when I first joined the police, I came across my fair share of racism. One of my first roles was working within a miners’ community and, weirdly enough, I experienced more racism within the Force than I did externally. I was embraced by the community I worked in.
“Internally, I’ve found myself being blocked by certain people in promotion processes. I’ve experienced people I thought were my friends, being nice to my face and then stabbing me in the back. Those few individuals made me determined to stay in the organisation and now, to influence the culture today.
“The truth is that there are always going to be those individuals that do bad things because of their own issues. They don’t represent the majority who were outstanding human beings.
“A lot has changed but not enough has changed. I think there is still racism and discrimination there, and anyone who says differently is kidding themselves.
“The real challenge for the police - and many other organisations I work with - is to think about diversity in a different way. For decades we have pursued the agenda of increased representation and, while it is important, it is not the complete solution. Recruiting from diverse communities will only benefit your organisation if you create a culture where a difference in thought is embraced. This ‘cognitive diversity’ is what will create innovation in our organisational thinking.”
Kul now works will a variety of organisations, helping them to improve retention and develop better leaders.
He said: “This year, I really want to engage with forces and Federations across the country, and work with them to create a more resilient service, where everyone feels valued, appreciated, heard and seen. My passion for policing remains, and I’m now on a mission to help current officers.
“I want to help create better leaders within the police - authentic leaders, whose roles are built on trust. I honestly think in a post-Covid world, traits like empathy, trust, transparency, honesty and authenticity have become our leadership superpowers and relationship-building our new leadership mission.”
In April, Kul is collaborating with former police Sergeant Andy Labrum to organise the ‘Out of the Blue Expo’, an event designed especially for serving officers who are close to retiring or leaving the Force, helping them to transition into employment, employment or entrepreneurship.
The event, which is taking place on Saturday 29 April at Millenium Point Conference Centre in Birmingham will involve a number of guest speakers who will provide attendees with hints, tips and guidance as they prepare for a life outside of policing.
Tickets for the event cost £65.