Herts police create racial equality group after Floyd death and ahead of sit-in at HQ in Welwyn Garden City

Black Lives Matter march in July after alleged police brutality in Hatfield. Picture: Supplied.

Black Lives Matter march in July after alleged police brutality in Hatfield. Picture: Supplied. - Credit: Archant

A sit-in at the Hertfordshire Constabulary Headquarters in Welwyn Garden City is being organised by Black Lives Matter protesters tomorrow.

Black Lives Matter march in July after alleged police brutality in Hatfield. Picture: Supplied.

Black Lives Matter march in July after alleged police brutality in Hatfield. Picture: Supplied. - Credit: Archant

The Herts-wide BLM movement are holding the protest at 2pm at the police headquarters in direct response to what they think is “blatant racial bias and instances of police brutality” by Herts police.

“We are calling for Herts police to admit, address and plan how they will do better,” Herts BLM said.

Chief superintendent Matt Nicholls, the force’s strategic lead for equality and inclusion, told this newspaper Herts police have a history on equality and “welcome the renewed focus on race and policing following the terrible death of George Floyd in the USA earlier this year.

“As a result we have established a racial equality coordination group, led by a chief officer, to renew our effort on this area and oversee our response across the whole constabulary. We are committed to delivering fair and proportionate policing and a county that is safe for everyone.”

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But Herts BLM, who have already organised a protest in front of Hatfield Police Station, have drawn attention to incidents such as the arrest of a 16-year-old mixed-race boy from the town in July.

Video footage of this seemed to show the boy pinned to the ground in what his family claimed to be a racially-motivated attack, and the officer in question has been referred by Herts police to the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC).

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However, Welwyn Hatfield BLM do not believe this goes far enough and told this newspaper that the officer should be “immediately” dismissed “for gross misconduct and criminal proceedings are commenced as this was a brutal assault on a child”.

They added: “We were deeply concerned and upset by the footage of the brutal arrest of the 16-year-old mixed heritage boy last week in Hatfield. As has happened in so many deaths and assaults at the hands of the police in this country, wholly unnecessary force was used combined with foul and abusive language. This sort of treatment should never be perpetrated by the police to anyone, including children which is anyone under the age of 18 according to the law.”

But it is worth pointing out that the IOPC is responsible for investigating these claims and are an independent body to conduct investigations into the police. IOPC reports also sometimes refer officers to the Crown Prosecution Service and recommend disciplinary action if they deem it warranted. There has been no conclusion to the Hatfield case.

Though the most recent use of force scrutiny panel in January did raise concerns relating to the Hatfield custody figures.

Concern has also been raised about stop and search, with nearly five per cent more BAME people stopped, and Coronavirus fines – which has seen 4.5 in every 10,000 BAME people fined compared to 1.8 in every 10,000 white people – disproportionately affecting the BAME community in Hertfordshire.

Mr Nicholls added: “It is not just us working towards these aims. Recognising the strong feelings the subject of stop and search can provoke, the Police and Crime Commissioner for Hertfordshire has created a panel to scrutinise stops to make sure these powers are being used responsibly.”

Stop and search complaints have also been low in Herts and training requires that officers carry them out with courtesy, consideration and respect.

“Central to our work is building strong relationships with all communities in the county. Our commitment to the local policing model sees dedicated neighbourhood teams as a visible presence in every area and actively engaging with residents from all backgrounds on a daily basis. We keep a database of contacts within many communities in Hertfordshire which help us communicate and engage with diverse groups.

“We call these Key Individual Networks and I would invite those involved in the BLM movement or anyone else who is interested to become a KIN. More information and a joining form can be found at herts.police.uk/KIN.”

Herts BLM has also accused the police of not investigating hate crimes to a sufficient standards, including an incident that happened in Harpenden.

But in this case, a specially trained hate crime officer has been assigned to work with the victim.

Mr Nicholls explained how the police deal with crimes of this nature by saying: “Recognising how hate crimes can spread fear and division in communities, we have specialist hate crime officers who provide support to victims of all hate crimes.

“We have also worked over the years to promote better awareness of hate crimes and make them easier to report. And most recently, we have created a ‘gangs and schools’ team to work with young people from all backgrounds who are at risk of slipping into criminality.

“I am also proud to say that we work to support Black, Asian or other people from minority groups who want to join our ranks, and we have strong and active representation groups working within our organisation who make sure their voices are heard.

“This is just a snapshot of the work we do in this area, but we recognise that there is always more to do and we continue to strive towards creating a county where everyone feels safe no matter who they are, and feels like they can expect a good service from the police, should they be a victim of crime.

“We have learnt from national best practice and landmark reports such as the MacPherson report into the death of Stephen Lawrence.”

The report concluded that the killing of Mr Lawrence, a black man who died at the hands of white youths in the 1990s, was not investigated properly by Met police due to “institutional racism” within the force and led to changes in how police run criminal investigations.

For more please go here: herts.police.uk/Report/Report-Shared/Complaints-FAQherts.police.uk/Information-and-services/About-us/Transparency/Stop-and-search/Stop-and-searchherts.police.uk/Information-and-services/About-us/Transparency/Use-of-force/Use-of-Force-Scrutiny-Panel

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