Current Affairs

Gay community faces ‘police liaison lottery’

Marc Shoffman December 27, 2006
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Locating an LGBT Liaison Officer if you’re a victim of a gay hate crime can be a “lottery,” the Gay Police Association (GPA) has warned.

The statement comes as police take further steps to encourage the community to report homophobic crimes.

The current situation has prompted calls for major improvements to facilities.

Bernard McEldowney, a GPA spokesman told The Pink News the main reason for the difficulties is due to each force employing a different system. He said: “It’s a lottery to be put through to a LGBT officer.”

Mr McEldowney also suggested there can be problems contacting liaison officers due to different definitions of the role.

An investigation by The Pink News discovered that access to a dedicated LGBT liaison officer is often impeded by a lack of awareness on the switchboard or by officers being unavailable at the desired time.

The Metropolitan Police switchboard did not know what a gay liaison officer was, eventually rejecting the call by saying each borough is individually responsible.

DCI Gerry Campbell of the Met’s Community Safety Unit leads the Violent Crime Directorate. He is responsible for London’s gay liaison officers – of which there are six full time and 167 part-time.

He said the scheme is being built up through marketing and further engagement with the gay community.

Liaison officers for the gay community were first pioneered to restore faith in the police. Some areas, such as Brighton and Hove and parts of London, have succeeded in regaining trust and opening lines of communication.

But elsewhere, finding and successfully reaching an LGBT liaison officer is a minefield.

The Cumbria Constabulary lists three mobile numbers to speak directly to a liaison officer. Two attempts at calling during the day were unsuccessful.

The central headquarters for Cumbria were unaware what an LGBT liaison officer was.

It was a similar situation in Croydon and in Manchester, where no-one was instantly available to speak to.

In Hampshire, the switchboard said no liaison officers were available. Melanie Morgan, the coordinator for Southampton’s officers was surprised and said the switchboard should know the appropriate people. She said it would be looked into.

At Merseyside Police, the number listed on the website went through to the front desk. LGBT Officer Vivienne Woods called back and supported the need for improvements.

There was a similar result in Bedfordshire where it took three numbers to reach LGBT officer Wayne Martin. He also backed an improved system for locating officers.

Other forces said contacts and information can be found on cruising websites, but Mr McEldowney says this can make it confusing, “It can be a but of a mish-mash, it is down to local autonomous forces.”

One recognised effective way of reporting is police Gaydar profile pages. Brighton and Hove Police were the first to have an online profile.

LGBT Police Community Support Officer for Brighton Sarah Stanbridge told The Pink News that she has often had to help victims from other areas.

However, The Met’s DCI Campbell is not convinced that improvements will instantly help or be straightforward.

He warned: “It’s important to offer choice to people. Not everyone readily identifies as LGBT.”

He was backed by Mike Cunningham, the Association of Chief Police Officer’s lead on lesbian, gay and bisexual issues. “It could be argued that there is more to be done to make it easier for people to report in a safe way,” he said.

“But all forces have their own arrangements.”

Tell us about your experiences with liaison officers by leaving your comments on our messageboard.

This article first appeared in the January issue of The Pink News which is out now.

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