|Corstorphine Police Station in Edinburgh|
As of 1st April 2013 a new single Scottish police force will replace 8 regional and 2 national police agencies.
The amalgamation presents a number of challenges to policing in Scotland. One of the biggest challenges comes from the legal obligations the new force will inherit as a public authority, an large employer and as a service provider under the Equality Act 2010.
This article explores what potential risks and opportunities exist for the new force from an equalities perspective.
The Equality Act will apply to the new police force.
This means that the new force will have several legal obligations that cannot be ignored.
As a public authority, the force will have to have "due regard" to the promotion of equality of opportunity, the elimination of unlawful discrimination and the fostering of good relations between individuals who share protected characteristics.
The force will also act as an employer; not just of police officers but also of a large number of civilian staff. The force must not discriminate, harass or victimise someone because of their protected characteristic.
It is also likely, that the force will be a service provider. This means, that the clients or customers of the police are entitled not to be discriminated against in accessing police services.
It is all very well talking about these issues in the abstract. However, what will it mean in practice?
Example one - Hate Crime
|This is the sort of racist graffiti that should be classified as a hate crime|
This is due to different IT, training and employment practices between each of the existing police forces.
How this will impact upon the recording and monitoring of hate crime remains to be seen.
The identified issue here is not one of a lack of information within the police service generally about hate crime, but rather in the administrative processes behind reporting, identifying and then tackling hate crime at a local area.
Each individual police force areas utilises its own computer systems. Likewise, each individual force currently has separate training regimes in place for training both civilian staff and police officers concerning hate crime issues - or equality related issues generally.
It is unclear whether or not a new single police force will be any better equipped to deal with hate crime than its 8 predecessor forces.
The general duty described above, requires the new force to eliminate unlawful discrimination and to promote equality of opportunity and to foster good relations.
If the IT and administrative structures of the new force are not up to the task of properly identifying, recording and tackling hate crime, then it is likely that this could constitute unlawful discrimination.
It is also likely, that the new force will not be able to comply with either the general duty or the scottish specific duties.
This could leave the new force open to judicial review of decisions taken if it has not had "due regard" to these important legal obligations in adopting new IT, administrative and training systems for the prevention, recording and detection of crime.
Example 2 - Employment Practice
In all likelihood, there will be some job losses as a consequence of dismantling 8 regional police forces and consolidating these into as single scottish police force.
The most likely source of job losses will be in administrative and back of house roles. because the Scottish Government has made clear that it does not want to reduce the number of front line Police.
At the moment, each individual force has identified individuals responsible for particular equality remits. For example, many local forces have community liaisons officers responsible for pro active engagement with LGBT people, minority ethnic and particular religious groups. Similarly, other administrative roles are also primarily concerned with the pro active promotion of equality with each individual force area.
It remains to be seen whether or not such arrangements will survive after April 1st.
It also remains to be seen whether or not the new force will adopt local equality training and promotion practice or if these particular functions will be centralised - one central equality officer replacing 8 regional officers.
It is also important to ensure that as a consequence of staff attrition, particular staff skill sets, such as those dealing with equality issues are not lost.
I do not know if the new police services authority, which is meant to supervise the work of the new force, has considered this point.
It is my experience, that many public bodies, when considering redundancy situations look to cover the basic legal requirements alone. It may not occur to them to also think further about the wider equalities impact of any redundancy exercise.
Example 3 - Service Provision
It will be unlawful for the new police force to discriminate in the provision of services. However, this duty goes beyond the obvious - denying access to the police services, harassing or victimising particular groups or individuals because they share a protected characteristic.
Consider the example of campaigns designed to tackle domestic abuse.
At the moment, under 8 separate authorities, each force is empowered to work with communities and other stakeholders on particular campaigns.
In Strathclyde, a poster campaign was launched to highlight the effect of rape and domestic abuse. In Lothian and Borders, similar posters are displayed at each local police station.
What is important here, is that a message gets delivered that victims of domestic abuse will be properly supported and that the police will act to prevent domestic abuse in what ever form it takes.
The majority of campaigns on domestic abuse are gendered - they specifically target men as perpetrators and women as victims. The majority of reported cases of domestic abuse follow this pattern and it appears logical that campaigns are designed around this model.
However, as our understanding of domestic abuse develops a new picture begins to emerge. In this new picture, we now see that domestic abuse can take place in same sex relationships too and that men can also be victims as well as perpetrators of domestic abuse. It is estimated that around 20% of cases reported and recorded in scotland place men in the role of victim.
The new police force cannot discriminate in the provision of services. This means that where a particular campaign is launched around an important social policy - such as tackling domestic abuse - that this campaign should not discriminate or stereotype to be more specific.
To a certain extent, this is already happening. Strathclyde made a point of highlighting that abuse can occur within a same sex relationship too as well as in mixed sex relationships in its latest poster campaign. However, there has yet to be any campaign, whether at a local or national level, addressing the issue of domestic abuse where men are portrayed in the role of victim and requiring support.
Hope for the Future
This article has sought to explore some of the equality issues and challenges that will face the new police force from April 1st.
I hope that the new force and the scottish police authority take the importance of these obligations seriously in order to build both the trust and confidence of the many diverse communities they will be empowered to serve.