If a Jewish Police Association sounds to you like a contradiction in terms, read on – you might have missed the shidduch at New Scotland Yard.
Few of us could have predicted, almost a decade ago, that the racist murder of a promising young black teenager in Eltham would hold any significance for the Jewish community. Yet, as continued hostility towards Israel translates into a growing acceptance of anti-Semitism and an increase in incidents against our community, the link becomes clearer.
Victims or witnesses of anti-Semitic incidents – and thankfully it remains small minority of us – might be astonished to learn that the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry has had a direct impact on the police response to our community. Some of us may still be under the illusion that only Black, Asian and other ‘visible’ ethnic minorities have benefited from the sea change in the police service.
Initially of course, shell-shocked after Sir William Macpherson’s accusation of institutional racism, the Metropolitan Police Service did quite properly seek to overhaul its relationship with the black community. Long perceived as racist, discriminatory and overwhelmingly white, this was to be no easy task. Despite enormous progress, that overhaul remains a priority within the Service.
A new Diversity Directorate set up within the Met by (recently retired) Deputy Assistant Commissioner John Grieve was the basis for a large number of new initiatives: community and race relations training for all officers; community safety units on every borough, staffed by officers specially trained to deal with racist offences; independent advisors from community groups working with investigative teams to oversee operations and processes (a step which ten years ago would have been unthinkable); an intelligence cell devoted to analysis of racist incidents; third party reporting sites for those who – for whatever reason – do not want direct contact with the police when reporting an incident; a specialist ethnic minority recruitment team; the list continues – and, slowly, it seemed to be working.
After a while, it became clear that what works for the policing of the Black and Asian community could and should work for other communities. Because community relations, often berated as the ‘pink and fluffy’ end of policing, is actually critical to fighting crime.
Imagine: you’re an observant Jew in the wrong place at the wrong time. You witness a robbery and give your name to the police, hoping you won’t be needed. The next day your doorbell rings just as Birchat Hamazon gets underway. Officers enter accompanied by suspect sandwich packages. You make time for them, but ham and tomato shortly emerge.
Alternative scenario: a couple of police officers turn up on your doorstep on a Saturday. They notice the mezuzah. Avoiding the doorbell, they knock and apologise for disturbing you on Shabbat, but they need to take some details.
Would this improve your response to them? Could this response improve their chances of a successful investigation? You get the picture.
In more serious situations involving police family liaison officers, who may need to spend a lot of time with you to progress the investigation, wouldn’t there be enough to worry about without having to overcome the ‘non-Jew in a Jewish home’ barrier? Wouldn’t it be helpful if they already understood kashrut? Why the funeral has to take place as soon as possible? Why a post-mortem would be so traumatic, even if you understood that it was necessary?
Of course, hopefully you’ll never have to deal such situations – but the growing realisation is that the police can’t ignore them. If the police understand your culture, your traditions, and your lifestyle – irrespective of your level of observance – wouldn’t you be more likely to want to help them? To come forward as a witness, stand up as a juror, allow them to use your home as an observation point? To really believe your help could make a difference?
Long before the Jewish Police Association was set up, the Community Security Trust was already meeting with the police to address concerns and promote a co-ordinated response to anti-Semitic incidents. The CST works on the basis that no-one protects the community like the community protects itself. The police work on the basis that a community protecting itself – in a law-abiding, professional way – is a valued aid to an overstretched police service.
The Black Police Association was set up in 1993. The Jewish Police Association was set up in 2001. In between the two, Muslim, Sikh, Christian and other Associations have come into existence and all are supported by the Metropolitan Police Service. Incidentally, we received the largest measure of support during our nascent days from the Muslim Police Association, which went out of its way to help set up the JPA.
The aims of the Jewish Police Association are as follows: to provide a network for support and advice to Jewish police personnel; to promote understanding of the Jewish faith within the police service; and to act as a resource reference for the police regarding religious and cultural issues, and in particular those affecting front-line policing.
The latter aim is particularly important, and it was the need for such a resource which led to the birth of the JPA. Jo Poole, a PC at West End Central and founder of the Association, was contacted by a colleague who, for the purposes of his investigation, needed some information about Judaism. She was the only Jewish police officer he knew.
Our aims do not include lobbying for kosher food in police canteens, nor for personnel to avoid Shabbat shifts. Nor are we on a mission to ‘root out’ anti-Semites, although in an organisation of more than 45,000 people it would be naïve to suggest that there are none, and that no-one has ever suffered from it. But if a corner needs fighting, an investigation needs advising, a community needs reassurance – we’ll be there.
The Jewish Police Association does not claim to represent the views of all Jewish staff within the Metropolitan Police Service. Indeed, at the inaugural meeting some of our number spoke out against the existence of such a body: why draw attention to ourselves, provoke resentment, put our heads above the parapet? To most of us the answer was clear: because we could only contribute to the changes already made. Thanks to Doreen and Neville Lawrence, the revolution had long since begun.
Also printed in “London Jewish News”