Like most, I have been reflecting on the marches we have seen in this country, America and the rest of the world, following the awful death of George Floyd.
There have already been many peaceful events across Kent that have brought people together where attendees are hearing about different experiences and challenges. It is important to acknowledge these.
Britain is different to America in many ways. Our policing by consent model is different. The police have improved professional practices and been through many reforms over the last 25 years.
There still remain issues with disproportionate outcomes across a number of sectors for black people that need to be addressed. Over the past four years, there have been many activities undertaken by my office which are directly relevant to these issues.
Additional funding has meant Kent Police has been able to increase the number of Community Liaison Officers, who support local community relations initiatives, specific to diverse and vulnerable communities.
I have worked hard to ensure that the diversity of the policing workforce improves, meeting with groups from different ethnic backgrounds and asking Kent Police’s Positive Action team to attend with me. Chief Officers provide regular reports on the recruitment, retention and progression of BAME officers, to ensure that the force can be as representative as possible of the communities it serves at all levels.
I have supported many projects which seek to provide opportunities for our communities – a project that supports black people in Kent with their mental health is just one example.
One of my key responsibilities is holding the Chief Constable to account on behalf of the public. This includes my legal responsibilities with regards to complaints, and I ensure that every single allegation of discrimination is reviewed. My team and I are involved in the scrutiny of the use of force and stop and search.
And as Chair of the Kent Criminal Justice Board, the Lammy Review into the treatment of, and outcomes for BAME individuals in the criminal justice system remains a standing agenda item for all agencies to report back on. At a meeting this week I re-emphasised my expectation that agencies should bring back substantive updates to show their commitment to this work.
The Chief Constable and I have a joint mission, vision and values document which at its heart contains three principles – put victims and witnesses at the heart of what we do, provide a first class service and do the right thing. Kent Police has been graded “Outstanding” by independent inspectors for how fairly it deals with the public and keeps us safe.
My hope would therefore be that black people living in Kent would receive the support and protection that they are entitled to, but the strength of feeling that has been expressed nationally tells us they do not always feel this is the case. I’m therefore interested to hear from those with different experiences and perspectives so that we can learn and improve.
It is though disappointing that some protests have been undermined by violence. Attacks on police officers have been appalling and must stop. Criminal damage and vandalism cannot be allowed. Nor should we rush to knee jerk reactions. There has to be discussion about how we approach change, with local and national government debates and votes in conjunction with local communities.