Here's the text of the Council of Faiths response to the draft Five Year Plan proposed by the recently elected Police and Crime Commissioner, Sir Clive Loader.
As well as writing and submitting this response from our organisation, I've contributed to the writing of a collective response, to be submitted in association with our colleagues at Leicester LGBT Centre, Leicestershire Centre for Integrated Living and The Race Equality Centre
Response to Police and Crime Commissioner's draft Five Year
George M Ballentyne,
Equality & Diversity Officer,
Leicester Council of Faiths
Having searched the electronic version of the draft plan throughout, looking for relevant terms such as “faith”, “religion”, “place of worship”, “church”, “mosque”, “temple” etc., I was disappointed not to find any of them included.
I searched every conceivable variation on these terms and the only mention of any of them to be found was the use of the word “religious” twice, both times in connection to “racially and religiously motivated hate crime” (p.23). Even this slight mention gave cause for concern: under the new legislation embodied in the Equality Act 2010, race and religion are deemed distinct “Protected Characteristics”. Lumping the two of them together like this appeared a backward move, not in keeping with the change in legislation and public recognition.
So on even the most cursory reading, the draft plan makes no reference to any faith communities, or to any organisation representing anyone or anything to do with religion or belief. This is particularly disappointing for two reasons:
- Firstly, absence of acknowledgment of the need to engage actively and positively with the city’s diverse faith communities – their places of worship and related community centres (numbering close to 300 and steadily increasing), the growing number of faith schools, the many festivals spread across the year. Each of these communities, organisations and premises – as well as those responsible for the many public occasions – has worked hard over many years to establish, maintain and develop good relations with police at all levels. They each have particular sensitivities and vulnerabilities that need to be recognised and addressed, as well as distinctive strengths and contributions that should be acknowledged and accommodated. This is a certain kind of community policing that Leicester has become good at. Its omission from the draft plan could make it appear that all this hard work is not valued and may well go to waste under a new regime.
- Secondly, absence of recognition that as well as giving so much to the celebrated diversity of the city, these communities, organisations, premises and events present potential flashpoints in terms of criminal behaviour and disruption of social order. Whether seen in the two recent visits by the English Defence League, in the on-going tension around ownership and use of Thurnby Lodge Community Centre, in the armed attack on the Moghul Dharbar restaurant in East Park Road or around the much-publicised issues of sexual exploitation, there is a new hardening of attitudes, a testing of relationships, a willingness to point the finger – and to take unilateral action, in word and deed – against, among and between communities that is altering the environment of peaceful coexistence in the city.
Faith communities and organisations can be engaged in the plan not just on crime related to “religion or belief” (e.g. religiously aggravated or motivated hate crime), but in other ways too. Places of worship, community centres, infrastructure organisations related to one particular faith (e.g. British Hindu Voice, Christians Aware, Federation of Muslim Organisations, Leicestershire Sikh Alliance) or related to a variety of faiths (e.g. Leicester Council of Faiths), opinion formers, influential figures, spokespersons and activists play an important part in all aspects of relations between police and community – and none of that seems to be recognised or included in the plan. These functions work in both a softer context in everyday terms and in a “harder context (e.g. role played during visits by English Defence League. Faith-based organisations are also experience and interested in rehabilitation work and can contribute much to cutting down re-offending.
The draft plan gives no indication of who should speak for or about the faith communities and issues of policing and crime that affect them – and on which many of them can make positive contributions. If only Voluntary Action LeicesterShire is to represent the voice and interests of these communities and organisations (as well as those of every other voice and interest in the Voluntary, Community and Social Enterprise sector) then Leicester Council of Faiths – and the communities and organisation with whom we work – would consider that an inappropriate and ineffective way to engage. Several years ago, when the Leicester Strategic Partnership set up its system of Host Organisations to represent the many “communities of interest” in the city, Voluntary Action LeicesterShire sought to be an all-encompassing “mega” Host Organisation, bidding to cover all the Protected Characteristics of age, disability, gender, race, religion and sexual orientation. It was not considered fit to do so in the end and the Host Organisation were picked from among user-led organisations (ULOs) all of which were (and still are) working on the ground with the communities they would claim to represent. From the Council of Faiths’ point of view, VAL at that time had no specialist knowledge, experience or interest in the area of religion or belief and no personnel working with the faith communities. Nothing has transpired in the intervening period to make us believe that VAL has the capacity to undertake that role now. We can only speak for this matter as it relates to our specialist area of religion or belief – but we wish to make it clear, in no uncertain terms, that (I believe, in common with our colleagues in other ULOs in the city and county) we would not have confidence in VAL to perform this role in way outlined in the draft plan. We would urge direct engagement with ULOs, preferably in partnership alignment.
In a new specification that runs initially to the end of 2014, Leicester City Council has commissioned the following activities from Leicester Council of Faiths:
- To promote trust, understanding and co-operation among faith communities and organisations in Leicester, working collaboratively with Leicester City Council and other strategic groups and partnerships to achieve this.
- To disseminate accurate information about the beliefs and practices of the diverse faith communities of Leicester, working collaboratively with Leicester City Council and other strategic groups and partnerships to achieve this.
- In pursuit of these activities, Leicester Council of Faiths is to deliver the following outcomes, all of which would be relevant and useful in the context of the Police and Crime Plan:
- Offer a collective voice for the city’s faith organisations and the communities they serve, ensuring that issues of religion or belief are given appropriate consideration within the policies and operations of the City Council (and other strategic groups and partnerships), leading to improved design, delivery and monitoring of services.
- Provide a central point of contact for the City Council (and other strategic groups and partnerships) on behalf of the city’s faith organisations and the communities they serve, ensuring that issues of religion or belief can be addressed in an effective, sensitive and timely manner.
- Assist faith communities and organisations in Leicester more fully to engage in the life of the city in general.
- Ensure dissemination of accurate knowledge of the beliefs and practices of the city’s diverse faith communities and organisations, in order to increase trust, understanding and cooperation among them (and between the city’s diverse faith communities and the general public in Leicester).
Leicester Council of Faiths is working with Leicester City Council as a partner on issues relevant to section 4.3 of the draft plan. Leicester City Council wants to use “using lines of communication between and within faith communities and organisations to improve design, delivery and monitoring of services”. This same approach can be adapted to serve the purposes of the Police and Crime Plan. As a practical example, Leicester Council of Faiths is working with Leicester City Council on places of worship and faith-based community centres as focal points of “resilience” (see p. 30). It would make sense, as an example of “joined-up working” to match these needs and outputs. It would make sense for Leicester Council of Faiths to be taken on as a “resilience partner” in terms of the plan. There are many references in the draft plan to “working with partners” that could be seen as applicable to working with Leicester Council of Faiths. These include the following:
- “the Force already has an excellent reputation for working with our partners who play their own critical part in helping to reduce crime” (p. 51)
- “working with partners to solve locally identified problems” (p. 5)
- “working with partners to prevent and tackle crime and re-offending” (p. 9)
- “shared strategic priorities to tackle with our partners” (p. 11)
- “working with partners” (in relation to terrorism, p. 29)