"Police officers need our support," says Surrey Police's champion for minority communities (From This Is Local London)
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"Police officers need our support," says Surrey Police's champion for minority communities Shiraz Mirza
From Asian taxi drivers to ex-offenders, Surrey Police’s champion for minority communities has spent the past year identifying and reaching out to people across the county.
Shiraz Mirza, a Liberal Democrat councillor in Kingston, was appointed assistant commissioner for equality and diversity by Surrey's Police and Crime Commissioner Kevin Hurley last June.
The 62-year-old said he has loved meeting, and getting to know, the many varied minority groups in the county.
He said: "I have been reaching out to everyone and still need to reach out to more.
"This sort of work has never been undertaken before within the police."
His engagements in the last year have included attending meetings of gay and lesbian communities, meeting Sunni and Shia Muslims, Sikhs, those from the Baha’i faith, having regular meetings with neighbourhood police teams, meeting members of the armed forces in Camberley, attending domestic abuse and mental health awareness events and considering the issues around modern day slavery.
An area he has started focusing on recently with Mr Hurley is the rehabilitation of Surrey’s offenders within the community.
He said many ‘surprise’ groups have come out of the woodwork - including 600 Asian taxi drivers based in Woking who want to be the "eyes and ears" of the police.
Councillor Mirza, who was Kingston’s first Asian mayor, feeds information back from these communities to Surrey Police and Mr Hurley.
One prominent issue he has started tackling is gold theft in Asian family homes.
He said: "Burglars come in specifically for the gold - they come armed with metal detectors and leave everything else.
"All across Surrey it’s happening and sometimes people feel when they are reporting crimes to police officers they feel instead of being the victim they have become the villain as they get asked questions like ‘how long have you been in this country?’.
"The police need to be more sympathetic in the way they reach out to them and they need to change their perceptions of these people."
Coun Mirza said he is looking to organise a trip to the county’s gypsy and traveller sites and said the subject of camps is one he feels very passionately about.
"They are part of the minority groups. People need to understand the problem from both sides.
"They have rights as we have rights so we need to look into and ensure we have proper consultation as new camps will have an impact on the whole of the county," he added.
The councillor said going out on night patrol with Guildford police officers from 10pm to 6am was "a huge learning curve" - and next wants to accompany Inspector Craig Knight in Epsom.
He said: "People are quick to criticise but they don’t know about the challenges the police face when everyone else is asleep.
"The police are lacking support.
"We need to support our officers and encourage them so they can go out and do a good job."
On the continued controversy around ‘stop and search’ powers, Coun Mirza added: "They feel ‘we do it and we are damned and if we don’t we are damned’.
"I am on their side - they have to go for it if there is intelligence. The policy is there to protect us.
"The few who question it and say the police are being unreasonable have their own agenda."
Coun Mirza said that one area he is keen to examine further in the next year is the ethnic diversity of Surrey Police.
He said: "They have a policy that they will have a diverse force. I want to see that policy is happening.
"I don’t think Surrey Police is diverse enough.
"But diversity is one thing and equality is another. People should be recruited if they can serve - regardless of who they are."
When asked whether a lack of minority police officers is to do with the police force not being seen as an appropriate career in these cultures, Coun Mirza agreed.
"There are a lot of black officers, but the Asian community has little representation. We bring the culture from back home.
"It is a cultural thing but we have some very good Asian officers," he added.
Coun Mirza, who will stand for re-election in Kingston again this month, said he loves working for Mr Hurley who has given him a "blank cheque" and proactive support, and hopes to reach many more people in the coming year.
"I enjoy it so much and people see that and feel there’s someone there.
"I am here for everyone. Anyone with local diverse issues, I am happy to reach out," he said.
Contact Coun Mirza by calling 07881039357 or email Mirza15202@surrey.pnn.police.uk.
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