In July 1968 Herman Lokey became the first black special constable in Birmingham. His recruitment came two years after a significant development in UK policing when the Home Secretary announced that police forces would start accepting applications from BAME people.
Birmingham and Coventry were two of the first areas in the country to take advantage of the new diversity of recruits, and Herman was soon rewriting history.
Born in Barbados in 1928, he travelled to the UK in the 1950s, searching for a better life and employment opportunities in order to raise a family. His wife Sylvia followed him to the region and the couple settled in Handsworth, before having two daughters.
While working as a railway signalman one of his colleagues, who was a special constable himself, suggested Herman should join the ranks.
The late 1960s was a time of great change in policing. Birmingham had recruited its first black officer two years earlier, with Ralph Ramadhar still serving in the force at the time Herman decided to join and became Birmingham’s first black special constable.
In a Birmingham Evening Mail newspaper article in July 1968, Herman talked about how he wanted to be a ‘member of an active and useful organisation benefiting the community’. He said he was very proud to be the first immigrant special constable in Birmingham and he would ‘do his best to uphold the fine traditions of the service’.
Herman’s entry in the special constable’s ledger gave nothing away about the fact that history was being made, as ethnicity was not recorded at the time.
He experienced some negativity from the regular officers, not because he was black, but because he was a special. At the time special constables were often not appreciated.
His patrols of Birmingham were often greeted with shock and surprise from the local community. He proudly served the public of Birmingham for three years, before he resigned as he was moving his family to London to take a promotion.
Herman’s story is part of the long history of the special constables giving up their time to put on a police uniform, without taking a wage. The special constabulary has been crucial on many occasions, such as policing the Chartist riots which led to the formation of the police force in Birmingham in 1839 and during World War II when the ranks of the regular officers were depleted through recruitment to the Armed Forces.
Considering the dangers faced by officers, the lack of protective equipment back in the 1960s and the hostility Herman and other experienced from the public and even their colleagues, we are incredibly proud of the difference our specials have made, and continue to make.
“The special constabulary in West Midlands Police together with regular colleagues have striven to be reflective of the community we all serve. Herman epitomises this and was one of the early pioneers of diversity in the police service. He and his family should be proud of his achievement,” said Mike Rogers, Chief Officer of the West Midlands Police Special Constabulary.