Avon and Somerset Constabulary apologises for historical over policing of LGBT+ communities

Sarah Crew is the latest chief constable to apologise for historical over-policing and under-protection of LGBT+ communities.

Nov 3, 2023
By Paul Jacques
Chief Constable Sarah Crew.

In a letter to Peter Tatchell in response to his Apologise Now campaign, the Avon and Somerset Constabulary chief constable acknowledged that some of the laws police enforced in the past were “discriminatory”.

The Apologise Now campaign, spearhead by the Peter Tatchell Foundation, is calling on all British police forces to say sorry for their role in past anti-LGBT+ “witch-hunts”.

“We do not expect an apology from the police for enforcing historic homophobic laws. What we are requesting is an apology for the often abusive and threatening way those laws were enforced – ways that would be deemed illegal and unacceptable today,” said Mr Tatchell.

Avon and Somerset Constabulary is the seventh force to issue an apology, following the Metropolitan Police Service, City of London Police, and the Sussex, South Yorkshire, Cambridgeshire and Lincolnshire forces.

In her letter to Mr Tatchell, Ms Crew said: “I acknowledge the important work you are continuing doing to advance LGBT+ rights and to safeguard those who have historically not received fair or just treatment from the institutions which are here to keep us all safe.

“I want to start with an apology. I am sorry for the over-policing and under-protection that LGBT+ people have suffered in Avon and Somerset in the past.

“The police enforce the law, but some of the laws we enforced in the past were discriminatory and our role in this has undoubtedly led to significant hurt, pain and anger, which has damaged our relationship with LGBT+ people and reduced their trust and confidence in us.

“I hope that by acknowledging the hurt we have caused in the past, we can start to rebuild our relationship with LGBT+ communities in Avon and Somerset.

“We are not the same police service that we were in the 70s, 80s or even 90s. In Avon and Somerset, we have an ambition to be the most inclusive police service in the country and I take my responsibility to police legitimately and by consent very seriously.”

She added: “We are currently developing a plan, to help rebuild the trust and confidence of  LGBT+ people and communities, so that they feel empowered to report crime.

“We are keen to increase the reporting of hate crime, domestic abuse and sexual assault, which we believe LGBT+ people currently under-report to us. These crimes have a devastating impact on individuals, families and communities, and it is vital people have the confidence to come forward and seek help from the police when they occur.

“We are developing our plan in partnership with Avon and Somerset Police’s LGBT+ staff association, which will include going out to consult and seek feedback from our local LGBT+ stakeholders.”

Ms Crew said actions they were taking and considering include:

  • Establishing better relations and mechanisms to build links with LGBT+ communities and open forums for issues to be raised and addressed;
  • The development of a network of diversity advisers, including people with lived experience of LGBT+ issues, to support staff and officers and advise on investigations when a lens of lived experience would be beneficial;
  • The development of increased quality and visibility of data to help us understand levels of hate crime against staff and officers where LGBT+ is an aggravating factor, our prosecution rates for LGBT+ hate crime, reporting rates, victim satisfaction rates and any disproportionality in our internal processes and policies:
  • Reviewing hate crime training for new officers to ensure that all aggravating factors are included; and
  • Ensuring the learning from the Stephen Port case has been absorbed and embedded in our CID and investigations teams.

Ms Crew said: “These are just some of the measures we are taking to repair and strengthen our relationship with members of our community who identify as LGBT+.

“We aim to hold the first of a series of community engagement events in February 2024 where we will consult on our plan to ensure LGBT+ voices are at its centre.

“Thank you for your challenge to me, and my peers, to own the mistakes of our past and to strive for a more inclusive and fairer policing service.

“I look forward to working with you as we progress this.”

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