PSNI chief hits back over criticism of officers taking part in Pride parade
Chief Constable George Hamilton has insisted police officers who joined in the Belfast Pride parade were part of an attempt to tackle hate crime.
And he argued the issue of same-sex marriage cannot be a reason for the PSNI to withdraw from opportunities to "engage and reach out".
Mr Hamilton said many hate crime incidents against the gay, lesbian and transgender community go unreported because people do not believe they will be tackled properly.
The PSNI boss also explained he had attended Orange Order and West Belfast Festival events, which could have been considered political.
He said: "I was firm in the view that my involvement was based on the policing purpose of building community confidence by reaching out and engaging with sections of our community that sometimes feel distant from the police service."
Mr Hamilton came under fire when, for the first time, uniformed officers from the PSNI and An Garda Siochana took part in the Belfast Pride parade earlier this month.
The TUV said by using the term "equal marriage" the Chief Constable had employed the campaigning language of the LGBT movement.
And the Rev E T Kirkland of the Free Church (Continuing) said: "By allowing your officers to participate in a street protest they have become subversives not enforcers of the rule of law."
The police officers were greeted with massive cheers from the crowds as around 40 of them walked in uniform through the city centre.
In a letter to the News Letter, Mr Hamilton said he accepted some people had been disappointed by the decision and he accepted and respected their opinions.
"Our decisions around Pride had no political basis. The PSNI is neutral on the issue of equal marriage," he said.
"While we will always seek to protect and uphold our political neutrality, it cannot become a reason for officers and staff to withdraw from effective opportunities to reach out to build community confidence."
The police chief pointed to two key factors involved in the decision to take part.
"We are aware that the LGB&T community is the focus of specific hate crimes. We also know that hate crimes affecting the LGB&T community are hugely under-reported. This under-reporting stems from a historic lack of confidence among that community in the ability of the police to treat them appropriately as victims. PSNI's decision to take part in Pride was therefore an opportunity to reach out and build confidence in this community," he said.
His letter also acknowledged Orange Order members had been victims of hate crime and received "significant and proportionate attention", but there was no history of under-reporting from the Orange community.
"In an effort to reach out to communities, I have on many occasions as Chief Constable taken up invitations and made decisions to be involved in events that some would view as lacking political neutrality," he added.