In the wake of the BLM movement, Police and Crime Commissioners need to be leaders in building the relationship with minority communities

September 12, 2020 12:52 PM
By Callum Robertson for Essex Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner in Liberal Democrat Voice
Originally published by Essex Liberal Democrats

On May 25th, George Floyd was brutally murdered by American Police Officers, sparking protests in the USA that then spread across the world, including to here in the United Kingdom where protesters highlighted racial disparities in stop and search statistics and UK complicity in the slave trade.

In 2012, the first Police and Crime Commissioners were elected across England and Wales with responsibility for producing a crime plan, managing the police budget and most importantly, bringing a directly accountable figurehead to policing here in England and Wales. It is the latter point which makes the 2021 set of Police and Crime Commissioner elections that are being held in the shadow of the Black Lives Matter movement, so important.

When the Black Lives Matter protests in the UK begun, they highlighted above all else, a deep-rooted anger about the very real inequality of treatment that minority communities have faced when it comes to criminal justice issues. It is because of this inequality of treatment, that minority communities rightly need to feel they can trust the police again.

This anger is exacerbated by stop and search statistics that show BAME communities being disproportionately targeted, undermining those communities' trust in the police. Whilst at the same time, hate crimes are consistently rising. This has created a situation where a mutual trust between the Police and minority communities is vital part of the challenge of tackling the number of hate crimes.

As Police and Crime Commissioner have been since 2012, the publicly accountable faces of policing in England and Wales, the responsibility of building the trust between minority communities and the police falls to them to show leadership on.

As one of the candidates for Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner in Essex. I have set out a three-step plan to begin the work of tackling racial injustice in the criminal justice system. These steps are by no means the finished article, but they encompass the crucial first steps of listening, acting on concerns and being proactive on known inequalities.

The first step to fixing the relationship begins with community engagement. I have begun putting together the Essex Hate Crime Commission headed up by a Commissioner for Community Engagement. This body will be comprised of leaders from the religious, LGBT+ and BAME communities. This group would work with the PCC to build bridges between the communities and the police, helping foster an atmosphere of mutual trust. It is crucial that this body is independent of the office of the Police and Crime Commissioner and is empowered to speak truth to power.

The second aspect is acting on the advice of the Commissioner for Community Relations. The ability to provide good policing to minority communities is greatly bolstered by those communities genuinely being listened to when they raise concerns. In areas such as stop and search usage, the views of minority communities are clear, the problem lies with the fact that these issues are consistently unaddressed. If the Commissioner listens to their advice and acts upon it in relation to a crime and policing plan, it will go a long way to repairing the relationships between minority communities and the police.

The third leg of the plan is acting quickly to address known inequalities. For this I want to turn to racial inequality in drug offence sentencing, this issue has been widely reported on, yet no leading figures in the criminal justice system have managed to address it. One way of addressing it is the adoption of a non-prosecution policy for personal drug use. This can be implemented in the crime plan that the Police and Crime Commissioners will be drawing up in May 2021. The impact of this will be working around the ingrained sentencing disparity that sees far too many minor crimes being faced with penal sentencing. By implementing a policy such as this, a Police and Crime Commissioner can make genuine inroads into addressing the concerns of minority communities in relation to policing.

This three-step plan is by no means the end of the challenge Police and Crime Commissioners face in winning the trust of minority communities, but any PCC using it would be demonstrating that they are serious in tackling the issues faced by the communities we seek to represent.