Festus Akinbusoye: I’m a Conservative Police and Crime Commissioner. And here’s why, were I a footballer, I’d take a knee.

19 Jul

Festus Akinbusoeye is Police and Crime Commissioner for Bedfordshire

One of the iconic images of our time is that of Nelson Mandela, with clenched fist in the air as he walked through a throng of mostly black South Africans following his release from Robben Island prison after 27 years in jail.

Likewise is the image of the clenched fists in the air of Tommie Smith, the 200 metres gold medal winner, and John Carlos, the bronze winner, as they stood on the podium at the 1968 Olympics. Both African American athletes wore the Olympic Project for Human Rights badges and were joined by Peter Norman, the white Australian who won silver, in a show of solidarity.

The outward expression of an inward reaction to a societal phenomenon is not new. In the cases cited above, all four used a clenched fist or piece of attire to demonstrate their convictions about racism.

They chose to stand with clenched fists ,as did many others during that era around the world. Now we see people choosing to take a knee instead. The method may have changed: sadly, the key aim of these outward expressions remains the same, which is to shine a light on the present realities of life for a section of our society. This is why if I was a professional footballer today, I too would ‘take the knee’ against racism, then arise and fight against it.

I confess to having little time for the political ideology of the Black Lives Matter organisation and entity, any more than I am a subscriber to Ben and Jerry’s position on defunding the police (I just love their ice cream). But it would be wrong of me to entirely ignore, evade or reject assertions about racism in society today, while contrasting it with the way things were two or three decades ago.

Yes, we can pause and reflect on how far we’ve come; but we cannot, as a society be satisfied with where things are. We cannot settle for this.

The mindless ruining of a fantastic national moment by a collective of cowardly racists following England’s loss at the European Championship final must be a turning point for those who believe it is time for us to stop ‘banging on’ about racism in Britain. Perhaps it might be a good time to focus more on the substantive issue of bigotry, and much less on the political ideology of an organisation that will likely win fewer votes than the Monster Raving Looney party at any election.

Why? Because the current deflection I am seeing around this issue is rather worrying, and failing to seize the moment only prolongs the pain, permanence and politics of racism. This is in no one’s best interest.

In Britain, we now have a Chancellor of the Exchequer, Home Secretary, Health Secretary, Business Secretary and Exchequer Secretary to the Her Majesty’s Treasury, all of whom are of black African or Asian heritage. The good people of Bedfordshire also elected the first black Police and Crime Commissioner in England and Wales at the May 2021 elections.

On the face of it, all is well.

But contrast these with the experience of a man who gets turned down for a job because his name is Mohammed, or the woman who was sent home from work because her afro hair was too curly.

Within the area of policing, I am minded of the challenges and questions which still require answers before we find solutions. For example, at every point of contact with the criminal justice system and law enforcement, we see cases of disproportionality between white and black citizens. Be it recruitment, retention, disciplinaries, dismissal, arrests, stop and search, police use of force or sentencing. We see the same outcomes.

I have previously written of my experience of being stopped and searched six times in my adult life, whether in inner city London or leafy Hertfordshire, Buckinghamshire or Bedfordshire. The same experiences seem to repeat themselves, though all resulted in nothing being found on me. But the memory of each of these experiences still linger long afterwards.

Surely, these must tug at the moral chord of those in a civilised society who have a desire for their fellow human beings to be treated with dignity, respect and fairness. Aside from the moral need for action against racism, there is the economic necessity for tackling it. There are economic consequences for a failure to take these issues seriously or more importantly – taking positive actions against them.

The same applies when we fail to act on gender-based discrimination or other forms of bigotry. More research is now being done into the wider economic impact of racism. The misallocation of talent, active or passive disenfranchisement of certain groups from certain sectors and the dampening of economic activity among those groups come at a cost to us all. We are all poorer when systemic exclusion or isolation of citizens exist.

Taking the knee will not solve the issue of racism, anymore than clenching a fist at the 1968 Olympics did. However, this outward expression of a demand for action against the day to day experiences of millions of our citizens should be met with more empathy, not disdain.

An invitation to be part of a solution does not mean the invited guest is the problem. However, to focus on the colour of the invitation card would be an opportunity missed. Focusing on BLM as an organisation when it comes to the wider discourse around inequalities and racism in our communities, and in light of the vile treatment of England’s black football players, only means we will be back at this same point again.  This, for me, is therefore not so much a black or white issue. It is a black and white one.

Festus Akinbusoye: What serving as a Special Constable taught me about 21st-century policing

23 Oct

Festus Akinbusoye is the Conservative candidate for Bedfordshire’s Police and Crime Commissioner election.

After working over 200 frontline hours in two months as a Special Constable, and almost 200 hours of training, I am stepping aside from this eye-opening role to now focus my attention on campaigning for the role of Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) for Bedfordshire at the May 2021 election.

Though I applied to become a volunteer Police Officer long before I knew the incumbent was not going to be seeking re-election, having the opportunity to get stuck in and working alongside our truly remarkable police officers has revealed things I could not have known otherwise. The training was intense, the pass/fail assessments were more intense, and the actual job of working as a police officer was beyond intense.

Nonetheless, I would highly recommend this to anyone who genuinely cares about making a positive impact on the lives of others, protecting the most vulnerable and being at the forefront of fighting crime.

Policing is not for the faint-hearted, and the challenges of safeguarding our communities in the 21st Century is something many do not fully appreciate. So, when I read of uninformed people using the pejorative ‘ACAB’ epithet or talk about ‘defunding the police’, I wince, having had the experience of the last few months.

The truth is, we do not need to defund the police. We do, however, need to defund the serious organised crime gangs who prey on our young and most vulnerable. We need to defund the organisations who aim to sow seeds of discord and anarchy within our communities. We need to defund groups and ideologies that exist purely to terrorise us. Instead of defunding the police, we need to re-fund the police so that they have the tools, resources and backing to do their job.

For when it’s all said and done, and speaking from first-hand experience after being on the frontline dealing with mind-boggling crimes, the police are often the first and last line of defending those things which we all value the most – our life and liberty.

Of course, I see more clearly now than ever the reasons why accountability, constant learning, and effective oversight are essential. With any power must come commensurate accountability for the exercise of such powers. No group or body should possess powers as do our law enforcement officers without there being a transparent and effective check on those powers. This is good for policing and the policed.

With that caveat, I can attest to only seeing officers demonstrate impeccable empathy towards victims of the most awful domestic abuse incidents, or exceptional duty of care for someone who was under arrest for causing bodily harm to another while under the influence of drugs and alcohol. On other occasions, I saw officers show kindness in dealing with parents whose loved one had gone missing or was having a mental health episode. All these were done, irrespective of race, religion or ethnicity.

Invariably, I and the officers I worked alongside filled roles of medical practitioners, parents, social workers, arbitrators (very often) and on occasions, road sweepers. Far removed from what you might see on TV, policing in the 21st Century is not primarily about blue-lighting it or foot chases after gun-toting criminals. Much of policing is trying to deal with mental health, alcohol/drugs related cases, domestic incidents, missing persons, and concern for welfare. Also contrary to what some might have us believe, I suspect most officers do not spend much of their shifts doing Stop and Search. Instead, they’re being called to cases such as the ones above.

But this is not getting easier, and is why we must have a more joined-up, multi-agency approach to policing. It is also another reason why a greater focus on prevention and addressing reoffending is so crucial.

It is my view that there may never be enough police officers around to adequately deal with the societal impact of drugs and alcohol abuse, or weaknesses in the core pillars of society such as family and parenting. There aren’t enough prison spaces to address these issues, so we must simply do better at preventing those at risk of sliding off the rails from doing so, while supporting those who are off the rails to get back on track. There is no other viable option.

This is why I hope the Home Office will continue to fund programmes like the very successful Violence and Exploitation Reduction Unit we have established in Bedfordshire.

I am very heartened to see the level of investment now being returned to frontline policing by this Conservative Government. More officers are coming through, and it has been my pleasure to work alongside some of these over the last few months. However, retention remains a cause for concern and a review of the police funding formula is needed to ensure that our police forces are able to deliver 21st-century policing to our communities.

Our police officers are ordinary men and women, who are being asked to do extraordinary things under extraordinary circumstances – with great success. We should salute each and everyone one of them. I certainly do.