What the Police and Crime Commissioner Candidates know about gender issues (or why I am moving to Devon & Cornwall)
About 4 weeks ago, with all the US Election fever, I got interested in the whole issue of communicating with candidates to determine their sympathies on gender issues. Posting this on AVfM, I was fortunate that SeaforthCJ was foolish enough to get excited about the idea as well. Had we known how much effort it was going to take, I suspect we might have faltered, but that is the nature of activism!
For those of you who don’t know anything about the PCC elections, this is the short definition of the role, as outlined on the home office website
Police and crime commissioners’ role
Police and crime commissioners (PCCs) will ensure the policing needs of their communities are met as effectively as possible, bringing communities closer to the police, building confidence in the system and restoring trust. More about the role of the PCC.
PCCs will make and influence key decisions that will impact on how your local area looks and feels – from CCTV, street lighting and graffiti to tackling gangs and drug-dealing.
Their job is to listen to the public and then respond to their needs, bringing more of a public voice to policing and giving the public a name and a face to complain to if they aren’t satisfied.
SeaforthCJ happens to have computer talents and managed to get an email address for around 150 of the candidates through some clever programming and we did searching for an additional 40 manually, 6 of these remained elusive but were mostly candidates associated with far-right organisations.
We sent a standard letter as follows via these emails or via the contact forms on websites:
Dear Sir or Madam,
We are approaching you as a candidate for the office of Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) in your local constabulary area.
Below is a series of questions, which we would appreciate you responding to. These questions are being asked on behalf of a number of activist groups in England who are committed to gender equality and your responses will help inform those who read in our online communities as to who they feel will best represent their concerns
- How will you oversee the Multi Agency Risk Assessment Conference (MARAC) process to ensure gender neutrality is upheld in its administration and decision making processes?
- What training will you require the force you serve to undertake to increase their knowledge of gender reciprocity in domestic violence?
- Your role will involve working with partner agencies on crime reduction. How will you ensure that there is representation on men’s issues in your meetings?
- If you became aware of perception bias towards a belief that women should receive lesser punishment for the same crime, how would you address this issue?
- How would you respond if you discovered that there had been persistent refusal in your force to investigate allegations of female-on-male sexual assault?
We appreciate the time you are taking to respond to these questions, and would be happy to provide you with information on any issues raised by our questions. We will also send a link to any articles we publish on our online forums in relation to responses we obtain from the PCC, should you respond to our questions.
Aimee McGee John C Forth
I would say we were pretty transparent in our approach. This meant I had to laugh on reading two of the responses.
One sent emails wanting to know more about us…and then sent manifesto details which were of no relevance to the questions. Clearly when the candidate for Essex joined the English Democrats, he had all independent thought switched off. The Kent candidate for UKIP needs to learn to edit forwarded emails. His campaign manager saying “strange for you piers.. ahhh the life of a PPC !!!!” above his response gave us a good laugh, and gave him a thumbs down, even though he said he would consult with us to learn more on the issues.
This gets us down to the serious stuff. We have had a shocking lack of responses from most candidates. Now, bearing in mind that we may have become spam, and there will be a lot of email traffic, it does not bode well that two polite, well-spoken individuals get less than a 13% response rate less than 1 week out from the election. Worse still, I’m still waiting to receive my first response from ANY of the candidates in Cambridgeshire (curses, means I might have to do my own research!). At least SeaforthCJ got two responses in the Merseyside.
We had two responses from men who clearly “get” that there are men’s issues related to policing and crime. Mr. Calderwood, an Independent running in the Devon and Cornwall area, is clearly a smart cookie. We wish him good fortune.
“the detail of the information with your question is very impressive and I hope other candidates will study it as so many are not experienced in the field and will not know much of the nuts and bolts of police investigation of domestic violence. I know from the debates, discussions and questions and answers that many candidates share and believe in the myths you highlight about female sentences, etc…”
In Lincolnshire, Mr. Hardwick, another independent candidate did some research on the MARAC process and his response speaks for itself. We hope this is the start of a red-pill journey for him and wish him good luck in his campaign.
“First, let me say that I was surprised to find no reference to gender neutrality in MARAC arrangements in this area. Maybe I didn’t look hard enough, but if it is the case that gender neutrality has been either ignored or side-lined then this is a matter of some concern that, should I become PCC, will be addressed….<SNIP>… I would regard it as my duty to ensure that partner agencies and the police were suitably trained.”
There was a middle range of responses, all assuring us of their gender neutrality, but to credit some of them, they have in previous roles been proactive in looking at issues around gender. Both Mr Ellis (Staffordshire – Conservative) and Mr Williams (Surrey – Independent) fell into this category.
Mr Longmore of West Mercia another independent candidate actually raised these issues on the hustings and said, “There is certainly an issue within West Mercia where male victims of domestic violence and sexual assault are not getting the support services required”
Two female candidates have replied to date. Ms. Jones (Merseyside – UKIP) stated she felt that the equality agenda had gone too far. Ms Robinson (Cumbria – Independent) felt we raised important points. Other notable mentions in this category of polite non-response stating their gender neutrality include: Mr Smith (Devon and Cornwall – Independent), Mr Alam (Cleveland – Independent), Mr Hogg (Devon and Cornwall – Conservative), Mr Goodall (Hampshire – Lib Dem)
Mr Reid (Mersyside – Independent) has a background in the law but his quote following suggests that he potentially has a gynocentric bias towards female offenders.
“I reject gender discrimination in sentencing – however I accept there are sometimes good reasons for women to be treated differently. Sometimes, rarely, they are treated more harshly than a man might be – in both serious and minor offences. We need an open debate about all of these issues, not one reflecting only particular perspectives.”
Mr Chisnall (Sussex –Independent) was aware of the Men’s Network in Brighton, but demonstrated he completely missed the point of concern about sentencing disparity
“ If you wish to win hearts and minds I would suggest you concede that women are disproportionately not present amongst many groups in our society. I would find your argument more persuasive if you were arguing for more women police officers, more women in the judiciary and more women in the PCP, rather than more women in prison!”
It is clear that some people are following party political lines and not committing to anything in their campaigning, so they were not willing to put anything that could be viewed as controversial in their responses to us. In this category there was Mr Howson (Thames Valley – Lib Dem), and Mr Williams (Devon and Cornwall – Labour). Even Mr Smith (Essex – UKIP) appears to have a party line he is concerned about
“I have some understanding of the issues which you have put to me but I do not believe a PCC should commit to such campaigns.”
Overall, we only had one candidate say anything that I felt like writing back and giving him a bit of a grilling on what he was saying Mr. Rhodes (Cumbria – Conservative) quoted the following
“ I am of course aware of the problems associated with women offenders. The fact that 37% of women in custody attempt suicide is something that we all have to be aware of. It is no more or less important than the fact that the figure for men is 26% = except that as a proportion of prisoners it is singularly higher.”
Quite simply I would love to go back to him and ask the following question – how many of those who attempt suicide in prison actually succeed? If it reflects the population statistics, the higher rate of attempts by women will be diminished dramatically by the actual deaths of the men.
So where does this leave us on the matter of who to vote for on 15 November 2012?
1) Vote. Even if you deface your paper. Political representation matters.
2) For most areas, you are on your own – but if you have independent candidates, I strongly suggest you contact them yourself and ask questions – as you can see we got the best and most thoughtful responses from Independent candidates. I will be doing this in Cambridgeshire.
3) Let’s all shift to Devon and Cornwall – five of eight candidates responded. I ‘m pleased to see this level of engagement.
I think more importantly than anything else is the follow-up from this article. I am keen to hear from English and Welsh MRAs who would be willing to be “out” and willing to provide information and advice to incoming PCCs on Men’s Issues in relation to policing. Several of the candidates who responded asked for local contacts if they were elected, and I would hope we can find people in the MRM who are willing to act in this capacity. Please use our dedicated email address to get in touch if you feel you could fulfil this role: firstname.lastname@example.org
If we get any more interesting responses, I will do my best to update this post on November 14, as long as life doesn’t get in the way of good activism.
(We are hoping to get this out to as many MRAs in England and Wales as possible. If you want to re-post this, please contact me.)