A police force has attracted criticism and sparked a social media storm by deciding to adorn one of its cars with rainbow colours to mark support for the LBGTQ+ community.
The move was branded a waste of money, said to show a wrong-headed attitude to priorities and to be an insult to other minority groups. But Cumbria Police fiercely defended the decision, which affects just one of its 320 cars, as it would encourage members of the LGBTQ+ community to trust the force and report crimes against its members. The police have also been praised by the LBGTQ+ community, who support their decision.
The row started with a tweet from @WeAreFairCop, an organisation which claims to protect human rights, saying it had been alerted by a whistle-blowing police inspector. Its tweet said: “Just heard from an inspector from Cumbria Police: Despite being required to save millions (of pounds), senior management has just given approval to a new Rainbow car. Regular cops are dismayed … but are too afraid to speak out as it’s a sacking offence.”
We Are Fair Cop claims to be a group of gender critical lawyers, police officers, writers and professionals dedicated to upholding Articles 8-11 of the European Convention on Human Rights and removing politics from policing. Their tweet was illustrated with a photograph of a brightly painted police car.
Policing with pride
Cumbria Police responded on twitter saying that the image shown by @WeAreFairCop was not their car. But they went on to say: “We police all our communities in Cumbria, and we have arranged for one of our cars, out of 320 cars, to have some ‘Policing with Pride’ livery on it to show support to our LGBT+ community internally and externally; this is not yet operational.
“We are an inclusive force and treat everyone fairly and legitimately, we do a lot of work to reach out to all our diverse communities. By visibly showing we support the LGBT+ community this will help to build trust and encourage anyone who is subjected to hate crime to come forward, we will listen and investigate crimes and support those who need it.”
Questioned by your correspondent, the police said they would need to put some livery on the car anyway, which would normally cost £657. For an extra £247 (making £904 in total) they would get bespoke LGBT livery instead.
But Jenkinson was unrepentant about his intervention. When asked why he had raised the issue, he said: “The colours of a police car may seem like a trivial matter. However, it cuts to the heart of what we want and expect from our police. People want the police to focus on policing not on playing identity politics. Police priorities nationwide should be tackling crime not showing how woke they are.
“This sends out a very unfortunate message that the police have their priorities all wrong. It creates a divisive message that some minorities are more equal than others, undermining the principle that we are all equal under the law. It also suggests that the police have money to burn at a time when people are struggling to make ends meet. Well-intentioned as moves like this may be, they undermine faith in the police when they need to be rebuilding it.”
The bulk of contributions to Twitter seemed to agree, but Cumbria Pride was delighted with the police decision.
Jane-Ann Clark, Chair of Cumbria Pride, said in a statement to North West Bylines: “I fully support the local police’s decision to add an LGBT+ design to their car, and can’t wait to see it. It demonstrates their commitment to promoting inclusivity and diversity within the community. The social media comments to this news highlight just how important such displays for reassurance and acceptance still really are.”
“Our community faces discrimination and hate crime every day, with many going unreported. Adding an LGBT+ vehicle sends a visible message that they are here for the LGBT+ community as well, which can be crucial in encouraging victims to feel safe to come forward and report hate crimes without fear of being judged for being their authentic self. The car is not yet in circulation, but I am really looking forward to seeing it.” – Karyn Wood (Project Co-ordinator at Cumbria Pride)
“I feel small gestures like this build up trust with the police and let us know they’re wanting to build a connection with us.” – Peter Harrison (Entertainment Co-ordinator at Cumbria Pride)
Asked if they had anything to add to the debate, Cumbria Police (source: Press Office) said:
“We know hate crimes are under reported in Cumbria, including those from the LGBT+ community, and want to encourage people to report crimes to us so we can investigate and provide support to those who need it. No one should be targeted for who they are.
“As a force we work hard to reach out to all of our diverse communities, including undertaking work on violence against women and girls and the National Race Action plan. This vehicle is a small part of the work we are doing to engage with and show support to the LGBT+ community – both internally and externally.”
When asked if officers raising concerns over policy was a sackable offence, Cumbria Police said: “It is not a sackable offence. As a force we encourage open conversations from our officers and staff that are constructive and supportive. In our recent HMICFRS inspection it highlighted the good work we are doing and the ethical and inclusive culture we have.”
So, no signs of a change of heart from Cumbria Police. At a time when police performance, from the London Metropolitan to Lancashire forces is under intense scrutiny, it seems that even expenditure as low as £247 can spark lively debate.