Taking the force forward
We meet Chief Inspector Umer Khan of Greater Manchester Police (GMP) outside Manchester Cathedral on one of the hottest days of the year, where the temperature gauge is hitting the 35 degree mark.
He is resplendently smart and despite the soaring heat, he looks cool as a cucumber in a crisp white shirt.
Umer has picked the Cathedral as a meeting point as he says it’s “an oasis of peace” and is also the latest site where he has been organising cohesive community events.
“I came to Manchester from Pakistan at the age of 11. You can imagine, coming into a new country, the fresh challenges I faced - including trying to learn the new language. On my first day at school, I didn’t know the difference between an ice-cream and a spoon,” he begins.
Life is now a little more complicated for Umer because - after 20 years in the force – he now heads a team of 30 staff. As Chief Inspector, he has won international awards for his work on social media, where he tackles hate crime and brings communities together.
It has been his hard work, dedication and a genuine love of helping other people which has allowed him to rise quickly through the ranks.
“I got into policing because I was a witness to a crime. There was a detective at the scene who said I should be a police officer,” he explains.
“At 21, I applied to join the force. It’s been a fantastic decision and since then I’ve loved every minute of it. I was never afraid of failure and I believe that’s what got me moving forward.
“I’ve been involved in some really exciting work, such as investigating complex fraud and working at customs and excise looking at the importation of heroin into the UK.”
Umer has had his fair share of challenges within his own family life but has picked himself up from the setbacks. After 15 years service in the job he became an inspector at Rochdale.
“My neighbourhood team, Rochdale North, became one of the best neighbourhood teams because of the way I use Twitter to communicate with the public.”
Umer continued: “My passion is helping people in communities. I’ve had my own challenges in life which makes me want to look out for others and make their lives better. It’s not about becoming rich.”
A charity ambassador for Human Appeal, Umer’s philanthropic work has seen him visit Bosnia, Ethiopia and Auschwitz. He also coaches young people in cricket and has even mentored a cricketer for Lancashire and England -Saqib Mahmood.
“I’ve coached him from the age of 11 and he’s now got a professional contract. I’m coaching tonight after I finish at work,” Umer said excitedly.
His endless enthusiasm is down to his self-confessed “kid in a candy shop” attitude. Growing up in poverty, he always takes any opportunity that comes his way.
“My true passion is about communities – bringing them together and ending hate,” he said.
Two years ago he had the opportunity to work in the ‘We Stand Together’ campaign which celebrates differences in communities, challenges hate and aims to move towards building a safer, stronger United Kingdom.
The idea about the campaign came from a meeting between Umer and Sir Peter Fahy, former Chief Constable of GMP. With his blessing, Umer helped launched the campaign at Manchester Town Hall.
“This past Sunday, we had multiple faith communities coming together, celebrating our differences. The Sacred Sounds Women’s Choir, the King David Choir and the Afro-Caribbean Dementia Choir played to a captivated audience and Rabbi Natan Fagelman sang a prayer of peace.
“There are so many different webs that are being sewn since this campaign started- such as the Dean of Manchester Cathedral – Rogers Govender –working alongside us through the ‘Challenging Hate’ forum.
“I’ll be doing a talk in the next forum with the Dean, discussing the rise of hate crimes since Brexit. Ultimately, my view is that the police alone cannot address societal issues like hate. It has to be a community team effort. Everybody has responsibility to challenge hate. No-one is born hating, it’s a learned attribute.”
He added: “We need to be closely aligned with our communities in a real and genuine way. It needs to be more than just lip service.”
In terms of moving forward, Umer’s vision for police and society is that they need to come together to become stronger and address issues that are faced by us “collectively”.
Umer believes that Manchester is a ‘fantastic’ city.
“Manchester has got over 200 different languages, it’s got so many different cultures, it’s rich in culture and diversity. It’s the third most culturally diverse city in the world.
“Nationally, it’s argued we’re the second biggest city in England but when it comes to peace, tolerance, kindness and acceptability of difference, we’re the best city in the world. That’s my view of Greater Manchester and that’s why I love it so much.”
When it comes down to his concerns about the city, he says that the police should be representative of our communities.
“We have a big recruitment drive that’s open to everyone, with a focus on BME. There’s only a four per cent representation of BME in Greater Manchester Police and we’d like that to increase.
“There’s a big gap there but communities need to understand there is a genuine need for people of diverse backgrounds - whether that’s Chinese, Asian, Buddhist, Black or LGBT - because the police is a reflection of our community.”
Umer rounds off the meeting by saying that families need to encourage their members to join the police.
“If they’re unsure, they can contact me. If any of your readers would like to take up the opportunity, I will be willing to go through the recruitment process and mentor them so they can get into the organisation and make a difference.
“I’ve been in the police for 20 years and I’ve seen so many changes. I’ve lived through riots and revolutions. The police is a fantastic organisation and now we need new people to take up the baton and move the force forward.”