A letter to the editor from the chief constable of the PSNI, George Hamilton:
While many people have welcomed PSNI’s involvement in Pride, I understand that others, including some of your readers [see links below], are disappointed. I accept and respect all of those views.
In writing this letter, I do not expect to change anyone’s view, but I think it is important that I share my perspective on the issue.
Firstly, I want to address the issue of political neutrality. PSNI is a politically neutral organisation. As an operationally independent police service, and one that seeks to serve every member of this community equally, it is important we protect our political neutrality.
We therefore take the concerns raised by your readers seriously and we will continue to reflect on all the feedback we have had. I can assure you that our decisions around Pride had no political basis.
The PSNI is neutral on the issue of equal marriage and I have stated this publicly as reported in your paper on August 9 (Police neutral on gay marriage).
While we will always seek to protect and uphold our political neutrality, it cannot become a reason for officers and staff to withdraw from effective opportunities to engage and reach out to build community confidence.
Pride is an important series of events for those in the community who identify as being LGB&T and therefore provides an effective opportunity for engagement.
In an effort to reach out to communities, I have on many occasions as Chief Constable, taken up invitations and made decisions to be involved in events that some would view as lacking political neutrality. To quote just two examples, I have attended the opening ceremony of the Orange Order’s Schomberg House, in uniform, and I have spoken at the West Belfast Festival.
While some people chose to view these engagements as political, I was firm in the view that my involvement was based on the policing purpose of building community confidence by reaching out and engaging with sections of our community that sometimes feel distant from the Police Service.
There were two key factors involved in PSNI’s decision to take part in Pride and I will deal with each of these in turn.
We are aware that the LGB&T community is the focus of specific hate crimes. We also know that hate crimes affecting the LGB&T community are hugely under-reported. This under reporting stems from a historic lack of confidence among that community in the ability of the police to treat them appropriately as victims.
Under reporting of hate crime is a challenge that faces police services across the UK and has been the key driver in many other forces permitting participation in similar events.
PSNI’s decision to take part in Pride was therefore an opportunity to reach out and build confidence in this community and highlight that hate crime, in whatever form, is wrong and the importance of reporting it.
The letter from ET Kirkland on August 17 [link below], referred to an “irrationality” in PSNI’s approach to hate crime. I can assure you in the strongest terms; that is not the case.
We take the issue of hate crime against any group or individual very seriously. However, the nature of hate crime can vary hugely, and therefore the police response will differ from incident to incident.
For example, hate crime that involves violence against an individual will be treated differently to hate crime that involves criminal damage to a building. Hate crime against the LGB&T community is largely personalised and often violent.
It is also the case that hate crime against the LGB&T community is significantly under reported which puts an onus on police and other civic leaders in society to engage and build that community’s confidence to report crime to the police.
These expectations are clearly laid out in the Policing Plan as set by our accountability body, the Northern Ireland Policing Board.
Many of your readers have pointed out, that members of the Orange Order have also been the victim of Hate Crime. I can assure you that hate crimes against the Orange Order receive significant and proportionate attention from PSNI and I am glad to say that there is no history of under reporting from the Orange community.
In addition, the issue of attacks on Orange halls is regularly discussed at meetings I have with the Senior Officer Bearers of the Orange Order at least twice a year. I and my senior colleagues value this engagement with the Orange Institutions, as we do with many other key stakeholders that reflect various sections of our diverse communities.
Like every other Police Service, PSNI strives to be representative of the community we serve. Achieving this goal requires us to engage in outreach with those groups from whom we are under-represented. PSNI’s decision to take part in Pride was also an opportunity to reach out to a community from which we know we have a low application rate.
Police officers and staff have been involved in the Pride event for many years. However, this is the first time they participated in uniform. While those taking part were being supported by the Service in this way, they did so in their own time.
PSNI support a number of minority police associations, which include the PSNI’s LGB&T Network. But this support is not at the exclusion of officers and staff who are not in a minority group.
For example, PSNI also supports the Christian Police Association (CPA) and I have spoken at a number of CPA events.
As Chief Constable, I firmly believe that as long as my officers are committed to Policing with the Community; abide by the PSNI Code of Ethics; and uphold their attestation to discharge the duties of the office of constable, according equal respect to all individuals and their traditions and beliefs – then they are welcome as a member of the police family.
As I said at the outset, I respect and accept the fact that many of your readers have disagreed with PSNI’s decision to take part in Pride.
While my letter does not seek to change their views, I do hope they will have found it constructive.
George Hamilton, Chief Constable PSNI
• Links below to other letters about gay pride