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Interview: the role of an LGBT+ liaison officer

The chair of Herts LGBT+ Network Inspector Steve Alison explains why it's vital his officers better understand chemsex, Grindr, and the other vulnerabilities within today's communities.

Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire's LGBT+ Networks recently came together to run a training course attended by 26 LGBT+ liaison officers.

Some topics covered included increasing hate crimes, chemsex and transgender rights.

Being a LGBT liaison officer is a voluntary, part time role that involves one day of training.

Hertfordshire have just under 50. Part of their role is also to advise and support fellow officers in dealing with LGBT+ hate crimes and incidents and carry out engagement work with the local LGBT+ community. 

They wear a lanyard or a pin badge on their uniform – anything to display internally and externally they support the LGBT+ community and are there to answer questions or assist.

Anyone who contacts Hertfordshire Constabulary is able to request to be dealt with by a LGBT+ liaison officer.

Insp Alison is responsible for their deployment.

“The majority of our work is pre-planned events and engagement,” he said. “I'll be honest, the demand that comes in live time is quite low.”

In 2021 the force did a specific LGBT+ hate crime survey in the community and found out only about 30 to 40 per cent of responders were aware that they had specially trained LGBT+ liaison officers.

“So there's still a huge amount of work to do to make people aware that they're there and it's a resource they have access to.”

LGBT+ liaison officers in plain clothes will go along to venues hosting LGBT+ nights and run engagement stalls.

They get external requests for talks from LGBT+ youth groups, schools or any organisation that wants officers to speak about the work they do to support the LGBT+ community and deal with hate crimes and other issues such as same sex domestic violence.

“Clearly there are some historical barriers between policing and the LGBT+ community as there are with many other of our minority communities,” said Insp Alison.

The charity Stonewall’s most recent hate crime survey showed one in five LGBT+ people (21 per cent) experienced a hate crime to their sexual orientation within the last 12 months.

Four in five LGBT+ people (81 per cent) who have experienced a hate crime did not report it to the police.

So there are a lot of LGBT+ people out in communities who are victims of crime, with the vast majority not coming forward to the police. Why?

“A lot of LGBT+ people accept it as daily business," Insp Alison told Police Orace. "They accept that they are verbally abused, or harassed or assaulted, and it becomes the norm for them. So there is a big education piece to do to explain to people that being harassed on the street is not normal, or acceptable and should not be tolerated it and you should report it to us and we will do something about it.”

Some victims of crime may not be out and open about their sexuality, and if they report it to the police there’s a chance their family could find out.

To combat this, the force is expanding its third party reporting centres, where they train external organisations and charities to enable them to take reports of crimes or incidents on their behalf, and then refer them to the force, which can even be done anonymously.

“At least then it's recorded and that is vitally important," said Insp Alison. "It really is.

"Because we need to understand exactly how much LGBT hate crime are going on in the community to enable us to tailor our services.

“If we don't know about it, it's very hard for us to do something about it.”

Same sex domestic violence goes unreported as well, often because same sex couples feel they might not be taken as seriously.

The course also covered chemsex parties, where sexual offences often happen, as well as the consumption of Class A drugs. Victims are less likely to report crimes and believe police will be more focused on the fact they were taking drugs.

Hook-up apps like Grindr can be used by predators to find their targets, and have been linked to multiple murders of gay men as well as druggings, rape and sexual assaults.

Insp Alison said: “It's vitally important that our officers have an understanding of chemsex, hook-up apps, so they have an awareness of the vulnerabilities that people have when they go to these environments and don't judge the situation they've been in and have some understanding of what they've been through.”

LGBT+ communities have apparently relayed that when they’re dealt with by an LGBT+ officer with some sort of physical signature on them, they are instantly more confident, comfortable and feel like they can explain the situation and know the officer will understand what they're going through.

There’s a wider piece of work ongoing to look at the diversity and inclusion training for new recruits to make sure these elements are included, and on several other courses too.

“To make sure the people that attend as first responders to sexual offences receive an input around LGBT+ lifestyles, some of the issues around public sex environments, chemsex, all those things, so there is an understanding there and not a prejudgment of what someone might have gone through,” says Insp Alison.

Last month an inquest into the death of Stephen Port’s victims found the detectives within the Metropolitan Police failed to make links that could’ve saved their lives, with some of their families alleging homophobia was a factor in the botched investigation.

“Cases like that cause rifts and barriers between policing and LGBT communities and people that may be considering joining the police as a career,” said Insp Allison.

“So we do have to make sure we can really continue to break down those barriers and work with people and celebrate what we do.”

Insp Alison has been chair of Hertfordshire’s LGBT+ network for the last five years and said it has achieved “a huge amount” in that time.

For a couple of years now their uniform has been gender neutral and they have policies and guidance in place around transitioning in the workplace.

In fact one of the guest speakers at the training was Skye Morgan from West Midlands Police, who spoke about transitioning while working as an officer and the current issues affecting the trans community.

They’ve recently looked at their policies around IVF, surrogacy and other fertility treatments to made sure they are fully inclusive of same sex couples.

Insp Alison thinks in his force it is easy to be out, although he admits he may be biased as an openly gay man at the rank of Inspector. He also says there are openly LGBT officers above and below him, and openly trans officers.

The force is seeing increasing numbers of LGBT+ people apply and, according to Insp Alison, doesn’t see many professional standards issues at all, if any.

“So I would say we are in a good place," he said. "However, I think that won't necessarily be the public's perception. The public probably won’t believe that is the case. We have a lot of work to do to showcase and celebrate some of the work that we do. We should be proud of how far we've come.”

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