Saturday, 16 May 2015

Blow Your Whistle

I was ironing some shirts for work earlier this week and glanced out of my window. The view isn’t that inspiring – a clock tower, a multi-storey car park and some construction work. But I can see one bit of road 100m away and the front of the city police station. I noticed immediately that they weren’t flying the Union Jack as usual, and realised with surprise that it was the Rainbow Pride flag.

I shouldn’t have been that surprised, I suppose, since I knew that a couple of days beforehand Nottinghamshire Police had held a little ceremony to raise the Rainbow flag outside Nottinghamshire County Hall a couple of miles away. Rainbow flags are going up all over Nottingham’s public buildings this week in anticipation of tomorrow’s International Day Against Homo-, Trans- and Biphobia (IDAHOT).
The police get a lot of criticism, (rightly so in a lot of cases, but not all). So I feel I should put on record the significant contribution Nottinghamshire Police has made to the fight against homophobic crime (there was no distinction given at the time for biphobia or transphobia).

In the 1990s there were many police initiatives which aimed at tackling hate crimes around the UK. Many of these crimes were racially motivated but the initiatives dealt with hate crimes of all types, as far as society in the 1990s recognised what constituted a hate crime. Verbal abuse, for instance, was not a hate crime. There were no specific attempts to deal with homophobia or attacks against members of the lgbt community.

The relationship between the police and the lgbt community was very fragile. There was a lot of suspicion of the police after the somewhat insensitive handling of various serial murders of gay men and the bombing of a Soho gay pub. Several police forces around the country had already recognised that there was a lot to learn about the lgbt community and the crimes directed against it, but they were slow to develop their initiatives into actual police procedure.

Liaison groups between police and lgbt groups in various big cities were formed and guidelines were drawn up to address how lgbt victims were treated. But, as Anne Summers, the Assistant Chief Constable of West Midlands, said in 1997, “It’s down to each and every chief officer to say ‘how does this relate to my area and what priority am I able to give it?’”

In Nottingham plans were being made in early 1997 for the city’s first lgbt Pride event which was called Pink Lace. Nottinghamshire Police took this as the impetus to go beyond initiatives and create an active policy towards homophobic crime, the first in the country.

First of all they conducted an up-to-date survey to determine the main areas of concern and where to concentrate their resources. As with national surveys of the same period it was found that most crimes weren’t being reported because victims were worried about how the police would respond.

The Nottingham City Lesbian and Gay Police Initiative (NCGLPI) helped to create Operation Shield, a campaign that was put in place just in time for Pink Lace in September 1997. The campaign covered all hate crimes, but it included a specific campaign aimed at tackling homophobic hate crimes and was called “Blow The Whistle” (official campaign poster below). Now Nottingham’s victims of homophobic crime had a specific team who would handle their cases. It received a lot of publicity and media coverage. No other homophobic crime campaign had been covered so extensively.
The NCGLPI also devised a training programme for its police officers in what today would be called diversity training. A leading officer in the NCGLPI was an openly gay Detective Inspector called Adrian Hanstock. Before I end I think it might be interesting to cover his career. He was the youngest police officer in the county to reach this rank at the age of 33. The following year he joined the London Metropolitan Police and helped to set up a similar campaign down there. He was responsible for anti-terrorism policing in London when it was awarded the 2012 Olympic Games, and was in command of the police who dealt with the aftermath of the London bombings the day afterwards. Then he was appointed as Commander of the London 2012 Transport Policy, responsible for the whole of the “Olympic routes”. Adrian is currently Deputy Chief Constable of the British Transport Police, the only national police force in the UK (and, as far as I can tell, this makes Adrian the highest ranking openly gay police officer ever in the UK).

It wouldn’t be accurate to claim that the Nottinghamshire police were solely responsible for creating the current position whereby all police authorities in the UK have proudly flown the Rainbow Pride flag at various times of the year or now actively participate in Pride parades (I spent a pleasant 30 minutes chatting with Nottinghamshire’s Chief Constable on the 2013 Nottinghamshire Pride march). But they can be claimed as the police force which led the move from initiative to active policy.

I wonder if the current officers at the police station I can see from my window realise their place in this country’s lgbt heritage and fight against homophobic crime.

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