No Gay and Lesbian Liaison Officer for WA

As part of a restructure of the entire WA police force to focus on frontline policing, the Gay and Lesbian Liaison Officer (GLLO) role that existed previously with the WA Police has been permanently dissolved.

As OUTinPerth reported in January, responsibility for GLBTIQ liaison with WA police now rests with the Corporate Research and Development Unit. The unit is a police support unit with responsibility for implementing substantive equality across the Police service at a corporate level, rather than liaison with the community.

The Acting Executive Manager of the unit, Robert Skesteris, indicated the demand for services in the State’s booming economy was partly responsible for the high demand for frontline police services. This has resulted in quality based services such as diversity programmes becoming less of a priority. According to Mr Skesteris, whilst there may be some resources available to develop networks and corporate knowledge in working with the GLBTIQ community, he described the probability of the Police Commissioner reappointing a GLLO as unlikely.

Mr Skesteris attended the Nationwide GLLO summit last September which highlighted GLBTIQ issues such as prejudice motivated crime, domestic violence in same sex relationships and under-reporting of crime. When it comes to knowledge of and links to the GLBTIQ community, Mr Skesteris admitted that WA Police are probably behind the eight ball in this area and have a requirement to improve. As a result the unit is working with strategies such as changing the name of the unit to recognise its role in diversity services, building networks with community organisations and the establishment of a diversity steering committee in the coming months. The Corporate Research and Development Unit is welcoming input however there are according to Mr Skesteris lots of issues and not a lot of resources. Whilst they do have some willingness and ability to assist with specific community concerns, the role of the unit is to improve service on a broad level and they lack the resources to provide a comprehensive liaison service.

International recommendations for tackling crime motivated by homophobia with highly visible and proactive strategies suggest that WA Police’s level of resourcing and/or approach may be inadequate. In December the British Home Office released a Guidance to Tackle Homophobic Hate Crime booklet outlining best practice in Britain dealing with hate motivated crimes. The guide identified underreporting of hate motivated crimes due to fear of further violence and the long term mental health impact of victimisation as significant issues. Unwillingness to disclose sexuality, fear of being outed by reporting a crime, and lack of faith in, or mistrust of police response were highlighted as barriers to victims accessing police services. Furthermore, whilst some hate motivated attacks may be considered low level, anecdotal and qualitative research indicates victims will often have experienced many incidents prior to reporting a specific crime and that the cumulative effect on victims is significant.

According to the British Home Office’s information, the visibility and readiness of police and the community to tackle hate motivated crimes plays an important preventative role, and it cites the lack of challenge to homophobic behaviour and hate motivated crimes as likely to escalate the seriousness of levels of violence.

The shift to frontline policing at the expense of community based policing is also not a trend evident in most other states. Most other states employ a range of strategies in working with the GLBTIQ community, with Victoria, South Australia, Tasmania and New South Wales currently employing GLLOs. Sgt Scott Davis, State Coordinator of the Gay and Lesbian Liaison Officer programme for the Victorian police told OUTinPerth While it is hard to measure pro-active policing, I have absolutely no doubt it is successful. We have cases which would never have been reported if not for GLLOs. Sgt Davis and another full-time Gay and Lesbian liaison officer are supported in their roles by the 26 other GLLOs in the Victorian police force. These fully trained officers undergo 4 day specialised GLBTIQ training program before carrying out GLLO roles in addition to other duties. Whilst Sgt Davis was unauthorised to give statistics on the number of incidents reported through the Victorian GLLO program he told OUTinPerth My area is constantly engaged. 100% of the time.

The lack of research and suspected underreporting of crime makes it difficult to assess the level of need for specific services addressing the safety of the GLBTIQ community and others who are victims of crime motivated by homophobia in Western Australia. If Victorian levels of GLLO service use are any indicator, underreporting and therefore action against existing crime could be a significant issue in WA. Time will tell if the limited resources directed to WA Police’s Corporate Research and Development Unit are enough to find out.

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