One of the concerns expressed by many in relation to Police & Crime Commissioners was that in striving for popularity candidates would appeal to the lowest common denominator: a mob rule approach to justice which could condone the persecution of minorities.
In visiting North Wales Pride at Hendre Hall on the outskirts of Bangor today, I was keen to make clear that this is not going to be my approach.
As far as I am concerned, we need to start with principles. I want a society where everyone is given a fair chance and we live together, freely, in a spirit of solidarity, tolerance and respect. Those words are from the Labour Party’s statement of values. As Commissioner I will speak up for communities which are under attack and will campaign vigorously for equality in addition to holding the police to account for fulfilling their obligations under equalities legislation.
Equality of opportunity isn’t the same as treating everyone the same: to take a simple example if some people don’t use a swimming pool telling them it is there and they can go swimming whenever they like doesn’t mean the facility is used by everyone. If certain sections of the community are missing out, we need to consider action to redress the balance. This could be single-sex sessions for people who for religious or other reasons don’t want to be observed by members of the opposite sex; whether windows are clear or obscured at ground level; it could be ensuring that there is an appropriate lift for disabled people to get in and out of the water – or it could be ensuring transport is available from outlying villages. We won’t know the answer unless we talk to the people who aren’t using the pool to find out why.
Principles, Actions and Consultation need to run together: there is no point consulting in a vacuum without being clear about principles and the development of actions to solve the problem needs to come out of a dialogue – which needs to continue so that you know whether the actions are working. The actions also need to be realistic in terms of the financial climate – we can’t necessarily do everything as quickly as we might want to.
In policing terms, the big issue is hate crime. The Paralympics last month was a great opportunity to change attitudes towards disabled people. We saw what some amazing individuals can achieve despite the challenges they face. I hope it inspires us to realise as a society that everyone has something to contribute: the question is whether we are prepared to provide them with the support to contribute. Every time the right-wing press or UK Government Ministers launch into a tirade against benefit scroungers, the hatred and abuse directed at disabled people increases.
Attitudes to sexuality have changed significantly in the last thirty years. Remember Colin’s kiss on Eastenders? It is commonplace nowadays to see gay characters in soap operas – but at the time it prompted huge media coverage and was very controversial. It used to be illegal for school teachers to tell kids that some people are gay because the Government of the day feared that such information might lead them all to experiment. That meant it was impossible for teachers to tackle homophobic bullying which was endemic.
That’s not to say we have eradicated homophobic bullying: Stonewall recently commissioned research which showed that two-thirds of young lesbian, gay and bisexual people had experienced homophobic bullying in Britain’s schools. But there is now a basis for teachers and police to work together to tackle all sorts of bullying. Sadly the same survey reported that only a quarter of schools say clearly that homophobic bullying is wrong in their school. A subsequent survey of teachers showed that many teachers themselves display attitudes that are no better than the bullies. We need a concerted effort to change this so that all schools take positive action, including faith schools, where lesbian and gay pupils are more likely to suffer from bullying and less likely than pupils in other schools to report it.
Public confidence in the police is very important – but it is particularly important in terms of those who have been victimised and yet haven’t had the confidence to report to the police what has happened to them.
Under the Equality Act 2010 there is a requirement on public bodies to:
• Eliminate unlawful discrimination, harassment and victimisation
• Advance equality of opportunity
• Foster good relations
The “protected characteristics” under the Act are:
• Gender reassignment
• Marriage and civil partnership
• Pregnancy and maternity
• Religion and belief
• Sexual orientation
In Wales, public bodies also have duties under the Welsh Language Act 1993 and the Welsh Language Measure 2011 around the provision of services in Welsh.
I hope that all would-be Commissioners give an absolute commitment to hold the Police to account for fulfilling their obligations under this legislation and to stand up for what is right even if it unpopular with some people. Those who preach hate cannot be allowed to have it their own way.
There are dark rumours that the Conservatives are contemplating sweeping away the equalities framework in the name of removing bureaucracy. I am very clear that whether the law changes or not, I will want the police to perform their duties with fairness, integrity, diligence and impartiality, upholding fundamental human rights and according equal respect to all people.
It is in the Oath of Office taken by all Constables and I for one want it stay that way.
Update 6 November 2012
At the third sector hustings yesterday we were asked about what we would do to address the reluctance of people to report hate crime. I mentioned that in addition to the issue mentioned above, it was important to work with community organisations to find out what is really going on and to ensure that the information gets through the police even if it is not in the form of formal crime reports.