District Commander Emma Bond at launch of Celebration of Women in Policing Book
Emma Bond took over as the PSNI commander for the Derry and Strabane area in January of this year. She is the first woman to hold this role. In only a few short months she has had to deal with a number of serious issues including the Coronavirus pandemic and the ongoing fight against dissident republicans in the local area. In this, the first part of an in-depth interview , Chief Superintendent Bond speaks to Derry News reporter Garrett Hargan.
Can you share some information about your background and career in the PSNI to date?
I’ve been in policing for 20 years now. I’ve been very fortunate in that while the majority of my career has been operationally focused, I’ve worked in Belfast, Downpatrick, Antrim and Newtownabbey as a Commander, but I’ve also had roles in tactical support groups and spent some time in headquarters. I’ve had a real diverse insight into the organisation and how it works.
Would it be right to say that you’re the first woman to be appointed to the role of District Commander Chief Superintendent in Derry?
Yes, I believe that’s the case and I feel really privileged, and it’s probably been a long time coming to be fair. But it is great to be here as the female District Commander.
I’m very conscious as a senior female in the organisation of the role-modelling I play then, not only for other women within the organisation but potentially for females or people across the community who might have some desire to join the police.
I’m happy to wear that badge with pride.
What are your thoughts on the city since moving here to take up that post?
First impressions are how beautiful a city it is, as you can see I have a fabulous view from my office right over the Foyle and I have to say I’ve been really impressed by how much the people are invested in the city. I’d always been told by colleagues there’s something special about working here, and actually, there is.
People within the police service and the community are genuinely invested in making this place better, and that is really unique and not something I’ve seen so obviously elsewhere. There’s a lot of history and I’ve come at a time pre-Coronavirus but the level of tourists and even during lockdown to see so many people using the quay for their daily exercise is great. People are very passionate about the place and I’m happy to come and spend time here and play my part.
Does Derry City & Strabane present any unique challenges in terms of policing?
There are real opportunities in this city and wider district because of how energised the community are, in the community and voluntary sector, we’ve seen the efforts they’ve made in terms of care plans during COVID-19, I think there are real opportunities.
But we’re operating under a ‘severe threat’ (of terrorism) since 2010. Very much what I’d say is that, whilst it’s there and could be regarded as a challenge, it is in no way a barrier as to how we deliver policing and community policing as a direct response to the threat.
What are some of the big issues you’d like to tackle over the coming years?
Obviously as a district we have a rural and urban blend so we are seeing bigger issues around vulnerability, domestic abuse and violence, but we need to make sure policing plays its role in getting the city back on its feet and the economy running. That it’s a safe place and we keep levels of crime down. Drugs is a big issue that the community is energised around and our police and community safety partnership (PCSP) take an active interest around that.
And at local community level anti-social behaviour which means we have to work with partners such as the PCSP around provision for young people.
Mental health in particular, whilst in my view there is no policing issues to those issues we see it manifest in people on the bridges and unfortunately feeling so stressed in their life that they have no option. It’s how we work with other partners to ensure the right interventions are in place prior to that point of exasperation.
You’re Chair of the PSNI’s Women in Policing Association. How has women’s role in policing changed since you started and do you feel there is adequate female representation in leadership roles?
No. I have seen a significant change, whenever I joined the organisation women were only at about 10%, we were relatively small in numbers but what you’ve seen almost was a direct result of 50/50 recruitment at that time.
We’re at just under 30% representation, still 20% off being fully representative of society. There has been big improvements. The challenge is not only about females coming in to the organisation but we know that for some females they see barriers to joining. There is still the belief that you have to make a decision around career or family, when actually that is not the case. There are opportunities around flexible working.
It's not just about women coming in, it’s about how they progress through the organisation. And I genuinely mean it, no I don’t think women are adequately reflected in leadership roles, we’ve got one female in our senior executive team, I’m the single chief superintendent who’s a woman in the organisation and we have single numbers of women at superintendent level, so no, it’s not just about retaining females within the organisation but getting them through the ranks. Not just progression upwards but specialist posts, be it armed policing, tactical support groups or other aspects that people haven’t traditionally considered.
I’ve been involved with the Women in Policing Association since it started in 2007 and it’s something I feel is really important. I’m conscious of how many people are looking at my progression and thinking they could be like that. I’ve had key role models such as Judith Gillespie who was my mentor as I cam through policing and Barbara Gray. It’s that saying, ‘you can’t be what you can’t see’ and I think the more women are visible it shows the more opportunities there are.
In terms of 50/50 recruitment, would you be supportive and what is the split in Catholic/Protestant PSNI officers in Derry and Strabane?
You’ve caught me there, I’d need to double check. From an organisational perspective we’re about 30% Catholic and 70% Protestant/other. The Chief has very clearly said the debate around wider diversity or representativeness needs to go beyond community background. There is no doubt, the more representative we are the more we can understand communities and the more responsive we can be. The challenge is we’ve had 50/50 recruitment, we’ve had the legislation and I’m not sure we’ve seen any significant change. I’m not saying that it may not have a place but for it in itself to be relied upon is almost, not abdicating responsibility, but there are other things such as public support for policing.
We have challenges here in the context of the threat with people not being able to live and work within the city and district. That’s not a normal society, I think a lot of what will change and enable people to feel able to join the police service, particularly from a Catholic nationalist community, is very much around widespread community support and endorsement of policing as a viable career. Ultimately, 50/50 legislation for the politicians, but my view is that there are other things beyond that which could be done.
We very much want to get to a place where you’re coming to talk to people who have Derry twangs in their accents when you talk to them, we’re not yet in that place, but that the place we want and should be in.
Last year in Derry City and Strabane there were 55 racist incident, 42 crimes. How many of those led to prosecutions?
(Commander Bond has been the service lead for hate crime for the past three years)
When a crime is committed we look at outcomes, where did we make somebody amenable for that offence. That doesn’t always necessarily mean it will be a prosecution, sometimes there will be a community resolution notice, a juvenile caution, an adult caution. It’s a disposal of some means.
Hate crime is an area across the board, all the categories of hate, not just racism where we see that actually outcome rates are almost half of what they are for all crime. But in respect of those 42 race hate crimes that were committed, it was only in six cases that we achieved an outcome.
What we find across NI is there is somewhere in the region of 16% of incidents are crimes where even when we have an offender identified, the victim doesn’t want to pursue the complaint or go through the justice process. Quite often what we’ve found is that victims of hate crime just want the activity to stop, the justice system can be seen as quite clunky, very prolonged, people can feel retraumatised by having to go through the case. It’s about finding an outcome that is focused on what the victim wants but gets a resolution an actually makes somebody feel amenable.
We’re glad to have fed into Judge Marrinan and the Department of Justice review of hate crime legislation (expected to be published before the end of the year) because we obviously don’t have specific hate crime legislation in NI which again presents limitations for us being able to achieve an outcome.
The types of offences that we see with hate crime tend to be criminal damage offences, maybe graffiti sprayed on a wall, they quite often happen in and around an individual’s home. They’re maybe afraid of the fact that actually they might be the victim of further incidents and have a reluctance to report. They can be carried out under the cover of darkness where there are limited opportunities for CCTV.
I would fully accept the outcome rates that we’re achieving are far below overall crime and far below where we would want to be but there are a range of factors as to why we think that’s the case. It’s about how we work to improve that.
And from a district perspective what we’re seeing across all of our categories of hate crime are increases which is different to the service overall profile.
Are racist incidents under-reported?
Not only as an organisation do we know that it’s under-reported but if and when it is reported it can be reported a significant time after the fact which limits our opportunities for CCTV, forensics or identifying witnesses. The key message that we’ve tried to give out and champion is please report but also please report as early and quickly as you can after it has happened. Quite often we talk about the ‘golden hour’ in terms of gathering evidence. It gives us the greater likelihood of recovering evidence that will improve out outcome rate.
Do police have a role in building trust that prosecutions will be secured?
Absolutely, we have recognised that not just prosecutions but that outcomes will be achieved. As part of building that confidence and trust we ran a series of engagement events. In fact one of the first was in the Guildhall with the Public Prosecution Service (PPS), Probation Board and PCSPs to help have the conversation and find out what the barriers are to reporting. A lot of it is people feeling they won’t be taken seriously, around language barriers and it’s about us providing that reassurance.
We’ve got the Crime Advocacy Service that is there once people report an incident to support them through that process of providing a statement, of assisting the investigation. And we realise it’s a bit of a vicious circle. The more outcomes we achieve the more confidence we build that hopefully it is worth their while reporting. We’re working under the constraints of the legislation and hopefully what comes out of Judge Marrinan’s review might help to show the wider justice system’s commitment to dealing with issues of hate crime; racism, homophobia, transphobia and attitudes towards disability, that we can start to achieve outcomes for communities.
At the Black Lives Matter rally in Derry 57 fines were handed out and just 11 in Belfast. Around 500 people were said to have attended both. Were different tactics used?
I can understand why at a first glance that’s the view people might have. There is not one specific reason as to why the numbers were different. Officers have exactly the same powers but we seen here is the city was people starting to gather and arrive over a longer period of time than they’d seen in Belfast. That led to much greater opportunity for police in terms of engagement, speaking with individuals, trying to encourage them to stay away. Quite a number of people upon interaction with police here in the city didn’t continue on, a number did. So it was more of a gradual evolvement of those 500 over a number of hours in Derry City as opposed to Belfast where it was much quicker and happened from the perspective where actually it was more dynamic requiring police to look at wider issues and take their approach.
The matter is currently under review and being investigated by the Police Ombudsman and we will await the outcome of their investigation and take on board anything they have to say. But I don’t think that you can necessarily say there were 500 in each, it must mean that there was a different approach. I think when you look at the circumstances, there are differences that in my view explain what happened. But we need to see what the Police Ombudsman says about whether approaches were proportionate, were right and if there’s learning for us as an organisation we’ll take it.
What could be seen on the back of the learning from the Black Lives Matter protests was the learning that followed in terms of the policing approach and style. There is absolutely nobody in policing or otherwise who would stand in anybody’s way or not support the reason for the protest activity. It was simply because it was in the context of public health regulations, the risk because of the number of people in attendance. Because we were in a position that no more than six people could be gathered that regulation had primacy over the right to protest. In any other circumstance police would’ve been there supporting and facilitating the right to protest.
What was the criteria for handing out fines, if they were being handed out, would everyone in attendance not be given a fine or was it if you refused to move on?
It’s about engaging, explaining and encouraging people to leave. If people didn’t it was about the ability to enforce legislation. It’s like anything, I drew a degree of analogy around, well, we’d love to catch everyone speeding but you can only deal with one individual at a time depending on how many people you have out. While officers were dealing with one individual others maybe walked off or the crowd wasn’t singularly static.
And because the numbers started to increase it was about trying to prevent further people joining the protest which meant officers were committed to a different role than maybe they had been from the outset. In any context officers have to be able to justify and explain the rationale behind the application of any of their powers. They have to be satisfied that an offence has been committed. Those officers have been satisfied and hence tickets have been issued. And ACC Todd said if people want to challenge that they’re within their legal right to do so.
Was the police response proportionate in Derry?
Ah, I said previously that it was proportionate but I’m very mindful that complaints have been made to the Ombudsman and an investigation has commenced. So I think for me, I can see from a policing perspective, I’ve looked at it and we’ve discussed the steps that were taken. I think it’s only right and fair that we await the outcome of the review because there is every possibility that they may come out and not agree. What has happened in the response to the Black Lives Matter protest and how it was policed we can’t undo.
What we need to identify is see what comes out of the Ombudsman investigation and take the learning from it. Then understanding the black and ethnic minority community and particularly our community of younger persons and young adults in Derry City and Strabane as to how we work and re-establish relationships that may have in any way been hampered by actions we have taken.
In hindsight would you have done anything differently?
I think there’s a danger in always looking at things in hindsight, we will never go out with a view to deliberately try and create a community reaction to the extent we’ve had and for anybody to have the view we’ve been partial in our approach. We as a policing service found ourselves very much in that position where we wholeheartedly support people’s right to protest, but in the circumstances of the pandemic and public health regulations that were in place we found ourselves with a responsibility to try and proportionately police the regulations.
If we have the same protest again in future days we will use what has come out of it to inform our response. And that’s what happened in the protest activity in Belfast the following week and approach that was taken in subsequent weeks.
Learning has been applied but I couldn’t necessarily sit here and say that if we were to do it all again we wouldn’t do it that way. Because actually based on the information we had, steps we’d taken and public health risk that existed, we believed we were taking an appropriate policing approach.
Did it compound matters for Black Lives Matter protestors when no fines were handed out at ‘Protect Our Statues’ protests?
The community are probably better placed to tell you that. But what I’d say is just because fines weren’t issued doesn’t mean that actually there won’t be outcomes as a consequence of that. We had evidence gathering teams deployed and there’s city centre CCTV footage in Belfast. There’s a clear follow-up investigation that is being pursued in relation to that. It’s not the fact that there’s been a lack of policing, it’s the fact that the criminal justice approach to it as opposed to issuing fines on the day has been deemed to be done post-event. But absolutely, where there are offences and it's deemed necessary evidence will be put forward to the PPS for them to make a decision about whether prosecutions will be forthcoming.
North West Migrants Forum (NWMF) said it had a good relationship with the police before, despite being sceptical, but has now lost all confidence and would not waste their time reporting hate crime or racism. How do you rebuild that trust?
I find that really disappointing, and whilst I can understand the frustrations that NWMF may well have around policing, I actually don’t believe that their way of supporting communities is by discouraging people from reporting. Ultimately we’ve a collective responsibility to keep the community safe and if communities don’t believe the police is going to keep them safe then who else is going to do it.
We are the people who have responsibility for upholding and applying the law so I would very much appeal, and we have asked to meet with Lilian Seenoi Barr (Director of NWMF) and I know there’s wider engagement with the Chief Constable and senior team. Lilian has asked to pursue that engagement, and to be fair, said there is no point in meeting us at the same time. The Chair of the PCSP and myself are very keen to do it.
This is not about police not in any way recognising the sensitivity and wrongdoing that occurred in America on George Floyd that led to the protest activity. We absolutely come out in support of that. The issue for us is we have a responsibility to enforce the regulations.
As I say, very disappointed, and I would hope that the request to have that dialogue will be taken up, as I’ve said, trust is hard gained and easy lost. Part of that is through talking, getting things out in the open and maybe agreeing to disagree. But I don’t think we should or can allow the Black Lives Matter protest to be a defining moment for this city. I think the city has proven time and time again the resilience it has and determination not to let key moments in its history stand in it way. We want this to be a welcoming, diverse city, for an ever-changing demographic.
I’m not sure it’s anybody’s interest for people to be sitting at home, in their places of work, going about their daily duty for people to be in fear and not think or be able to feel that they can come forward. The only way to stop hate crime from happening is to report it and take action to stop it. It would never stop and all we’d be doing is perpetuating that sense of people becoming repeatedly victimised. And I get the depth of feeling that I don’t believe NWMF would want that in any sense at all.
Northern Ireland isn’t known to have a big population of black and ethnic minority communities but is it important for them to also see role models in the police service?
Our black, minority ethnic police officers make up I think less than 2% of our overall numbers, incredibly low. I know maybe the black and ethnic minority communities are just 1% of the wider community. So we’re not representative at all. I think that’s where we were talking about positive discrimination and legislation, we need to look at diversity in its widest sense. It’s not just about gender, about community background, it absolutely is about people from minority communities.
NI is becoming more and more diverse and the best way to deliver community policing is to have police officers who can speak their languages. We have interpreter services, so it shouldn’t be a barrier, but it’s far better for us to have people who can go out and engage at first hand. People may come from communities where there is a lack of trust in the police service, where corruption maybe was something and they didn’t see the police as upholders of law and order. I believe that police are seen by the majority of people in that light and it’s important for us to work with minority communities, build that trust to achieve justice outcomes and so they can see themselves playing a role in terms of helping communities.
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