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Trust from the LGBTQ+ community has wavered, say liaison officers

Hertfordshire has had the role of an LGBTQ+ liaison officer for more than 10 years – the force currently has over 80 officers who have taken up the voluntary position.

Trust in policing from the LGBTQ+ community has “wavered” over the last 12 months as national reports and investigations have caused problems with confidence across society, Hertfordshire’s LGBTQ+ liaison officers have said.

The force has had the voluntary role of an LGBTQ+ liaison officer for over 10 years. The role is open to anyone and consists of providing support and advice for incidents which impact or involve members of the community.

The role includes attending pre-planned events, being deployed to incidents at request, as well as identifying and recognising when extra support could be provided for LGBTQ+ members within routine deployments.

They are not the only force with a similar role - Bedfordshire and Cambridgeshire have joined with Hertfordshire and the voluntary course is delivered in person for the three forces.

The Met has also recently restored full-time LGBT+ liaison officers who are set to work alongside colleagues who already volunteer to do similar in addition to their daily role.  

The last 12 months have seen a decline in trust in policing across society and Hertfordshire's liaison officers say that the LGBTQ+ community has not been immune to that.

Hate crimes have risen year on year for a long time, but for the first time, Herts Chief Insp Steve Alison, who chairs the force's liaison network, believes that this financial year might see a decrease locally.

He believes it’s not due to a decrease in the crimes themselves but a direct link to lack of confidence in policing and confidence in reporting.

PC Toby George, who is also a liaison officer for Herts added: “Two years ago – the relationship between the community and the police was going quite well.

“Within the last six months that has definitely changed. I was asked by a member of the community just recently – how can you go to work every day and be part of an organisation that historically hated this community and there doesn’t seem to be any improvements being made – that was hard to hear.

“For a long time, I didn't join the police because I thought there were too many bad apples, and I couldn't change the organisation and I didn’t want to be part of something that I thought wasn’t aligned with my values.”

He described people even avoiding eye contact at events the liaison officers attend – with the uniform being “difficult [for them] to process”.

Chief Insp Alison also said he, along with other members of the LGBTQ+ network, have been asked externally why they are officers and how that fits with their personal values.

“In 10 years of being in the police, I’ve never had that,” he said.

“Lots of us here are thriving and feel valued, looked after by our organisation.”

PC George told Police Oracle around 30-35% of his work within the liaison role comes from calls from the community.

“The community knows who I am now and where there’s a hate crime incident, for example, they [know they can] refer through to me,” he said.

“From our most recent training course- the majority of my team attended. We later had an incident where someone who identified as non-binary came through as a missing person, my team could tell the control room – this is how they identify, what their pronouns were, which was passed on to other officers who had been called out for the search.

“It's really interesting to see other officers engage with members from the community after having that training course once they’ve got that background knowledge.”

Once officers have completed the training, other staff working in their area will be sent an updated list of liaison officers who they can reach out to for advice.

In Hertfordshire, members of the community can specifically request that a liaison officer attend an incident– with the caveat being that in an emergency situation they would always get the nearest available officer.

Chief Inspector Alison explained: “However, if you do request one, we will do our best to get you an on-duty liaison officer so at the very least you will be able to speak to one or for the officer that is with you to be able to seek guidance from one.

“We are starting to see deployments increase, but […] it's also really helpful to have those trained people out there because quite a lot of our deployments are because we've attended incidents and actually identified someone maybe from the community or potentially linked to it.

“Historically people would probably have hidden that from us in some way or another, or not contacted the police in the first place but we're now able to identify that and provide enhanced support, which is really important.”

He added that allocations are done with an officers’ workload in mind.

Nationally there is an LGBTQ+ network comprising the support groups from around the country, as well as a NPCC lead - Chief Constable Vanessa Jardine.

A recent success for PC George was when he attended an incident where an individual was trying to jump off a bridge onto a train track.

He was able to talk them down after the individual spotted his LGBTQ+ liaison badge on his uniform.

“They then explained to me that the whole reason they were there that day was because they realised, they were non-binary, I was able to correct everyone present about their pronouns and their name.

“I made a note on the systems about their pronouns and new name, and I got them into one of our services overnight.

“Previously they had been in quite a constant cycle - they would always go missing they'd have a breakdown.

“Now they are happy, they have got the right support now that everyone knows the issue that had been causing them so much stress.”

Missing persons scenarios are other incidents where it’s really important to get a person’s name and pronouns correct, he said.

“You don’t have to understand it but you do have to respect it,” PC George concluded.

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