Blogit / Kolumnit
Blog: LGBT+ History month blog from CI Declan Halton-Woodward
Tiistai 8.2.2022 klo 19:17 - Declan Halton-Woodward
In the first of a series of blogs from officers to mark LGBT+ history month, Declan Halton-Woodward, the communications and media relations lead for the Met's LGBT+ staff network, shares his story below. Declan is a special Chief Inspector covering Hackney and Tower Hamlets boroughs, and an army reservist.
Foto: Metropolitan Police
I previously worked as a senior advisor to financial services, in operations at defence/security firms and travelled the globe as chief of staff to a high net-worth individual. Then I found out through a chance comment by a friend at Kent Police that if I joined as a special, I wouldn’t have to give up my career to be involved in policing.
From an early age I always had a strong sense of right and wrong, duty and desire to give back to the community, which I think led me to be interested in policing. . Another factor that influenced me was the differing levels of service I had previously received from police as a victim of two homophobic assaults, one was amazing, while the other left me feeling worse that the attack itself. I wanted to do something that mattered, and for me it was far better to go and do the job and ‘be the difference’ you want to see, rather than moaning as an armchair critic. But growing up in an Irish Catholic republican family, anything to do with national service for the British ‘establishment’ was a big no-no. When I joined the police, my family relations completely broke down and never quite recovered, the Hendon passing out parade was a lonely place!
After I joined the Met, my entire perception of policing changed and I very quickly began to understand the difficulties of modern policing, not least as I realised the problems and solutions to things like violence and anti-social behaviour are multi-agency and societal, whereas so often the media will portray it singularly at the Met’s door. It's not as simple as good or bad and I'd encourage journalists and others to come out with us and recognise the issues are far more complex - I'm still learning about them myself. Despite all these challenges, I know we achieve some truly excellent results; we do good every single day. Throughout my time in the Met, I’ve witnessed this passion and the heroic work of officers, be it operations to target youth gangs where we made real inroads in getting children out of the worst situations or when, in response to the Black Lives Matter movement, we run an operation where we went directly into the homes of black community members, listening, learning and having difficult conversations about race in Britain. It was hard but progressive and productive, and really eye-opening for me; the similarity between homophobic discrimination could not be overlooked.
We all have low points in the job too, for me, this has always been when responding to incidents where you can’t do the good you want to, where things are outside of your control. Like when we responded to an attempted suicide of a female who’d cut her wrists, and written derogatory terms about herself in her own blood on the mirror. You give her immediate medical attention, patch her up and send her away to hospital. We tried to clean up her flat and mirror before we left, but did we really solve any problems that day?. While those times can be dispiriting, the days where you feel that you have done some real good enable you to ride on that high until the next time.
In terms of the staff LGBT+ network, I joined as I wanted to be part of the conversation for those Met employees and members of the public, and I'd seen some great work done there. When it comes to the question of the police and institutional homophobia, I'd say that if one accepts society is still homophobic, then as the police is made up of members of society, the organisation will be to the same extent as the society which it reflects, no more or less. I always say that the prejudice I’ve seen in the private sector is far worse than anything I've ever encountered in the police. While I am not saying homophobia doesn't exist at all in the Met, I think we are making some real inroads to address it and there are some senior officers genuinely passionate about diversity and inclusion. All that being said, there are areas where we must do better - in recruitment, in ongoing support including when officers suffer hate crime in the street and in promotion processes.
A test of an organisation's moral compass is how they support those most hard done by, and we clearly have work to do as we know a large proportion of our LGBT+ staff don't feel confident in seeking promotion, coming out or being their whole selves. It easy to forget that the LGBT+ isn’t just gay men, it’s made up of all sorts of people, genders, sexualities and identities, each as important to support as the last. More representation in senior ranks, and getting rid of the old school banter mentality that persists in some teams, and creating an environment where everyone can be open and safe in every team in the Met is where we begin, and it’s everyone’s responsibility. The Met is trying hard to dispel sexism and misogyny and I think those type of attitudes often go hand-in-hand with homophobic and transphobic discrimination. As the Commissioner has said: enough is enough.
There is no doubt that the Stephen Port case has significantly impacted community confidence, including with us in the network, not just from a police perspective, but as members of those communities. Watching the BBC drama was difficult for me, at multiple points I remember thinking 'what have we done', wanting to shake the actors into some logic, and feeling quite vulnerable as a gay man. It certainly brought it home and it's really upset me and lots of colleagues - it's horrible to think people are questioning their association with the Met because of it. On the positive side though, I think the Met is a different place even from four years ago and that we evolve very quickly - we are far more diverse in terms of new staff, and have made some fundamental changes like significant improvements in how we investigate sudden deaths. We made some terrible mistakes, and in our job these cost lives, unlike in any other profession. We can't smooth it over, or defend it, we must apologise as we have done and do everything we can to get better. The weight of the role is almost unbearable, we have to get it right every time, and when we respond to over 9,000 incidents a day, it feels like an impossible ask.
As the Martin Luther King quote from this year's LGBT+ month's official theme notes, 'the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends towards justice'. Real fundamental change takes generations, but it starts with each of us. The Met is a place for Londoners, in all their diversity and glory, it’s where I found my passion and is the best thing I have ever done in my life… this History Month, let’s make sure everyone else feels the same…