LOCAL PROFILE: Inspector Haroon Chughtai

Words by Jobe Baker Sullivan / Pics supplied by West Midlands Police

(First published in Erdington Local’s Nov/Dec ’20 newspaper)

Haroon Chughtai is the West Midlands Police Inspector responsible for Erdington and Sutton Coldfield, overseeing both constituencies. Erdington Local caught up with the area’s top cop, to find out more about the man behind the badge.

Now 41 years old, Haroon Chughtai joined the police force in 2003 – straight after completing his degree in Business and Computer Science at Birmingham University. Being made Police Inspector for Erdington and Sutton Coldfield in January 2020, Haroon manages the neighbourhood teams and police staff across the two constituencies.

He cites his reasons for joining the police as “wanting to give back to the community,” as well as wanting to be an example of diversity in the force.

“I knew nobody who was a copper, I had no family members who were police officers. At that time, there was more of a drive to get the police force more representative – more black and Asian people.”

This literal ‘bobbie on his bike’ cycles to work regularly, operating out of Erdington Police Station, and bemoans the fact that he rarely gets out the office. Instead, Inspector Chughtai spends much of his time in the office overseeing “70-80” cops.

“I’m lucky if I get out once a month,” Haroon says, but thinks that “sometimes it’s important that I go out and see something for myself.”

When asked about changes in his career during his 17 years in the force, Haroon says that he is impressed with the “technological changes” the police have embraced and in the way it helps them operates. And in the days of cyber-crime and Internet criminality, the police now have to “operate online more, with social media.”

Inspector Chughtai also believes that huge government cuts during his time have caused the police to make “difficult decisions” such as being unable to deal immediately with “petty theft and crime.” Police departments across the country have been pushed to make substantial changes over recent years, with 16% of spending declining between 2010-2019 nationally.  

On the other hand, Haroon says that “The police force is much better at prioritizing things – based on risk and vulnerability. We deal with what needs to be dealt with immediately.”

During 2020, one of the biggest challenges for the local police force and for Haroon has been “the rise in domestic abuse”, with the Erdington Inspector estimating that domestic abuse accounts for “approximately a quarter of all Erdington’s crime.”

Victims are “predominantly women” with most offenders being male. This is also reflected in the rise of domestic abuse across the entire country since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, with many violent relationships exacerbated during the national lockdowns. 

Inspector Chughtai found policing during the first lockdown “really challenging”, noting the “really poor understanding of what the restrictions were. The compliance wasn’t as good as it is now [to the rules].” This included non-essential businesses remaining open illegally.

When asked by Erdington Local to predict the immediate future of his role in the area, Haroon said that “Sadly, I think COVID is here to stay – the enforcement around COVID will have to continue”.

Haroon is also committed to reducing “under 25 violence”, especially referring to young people leaving school, hanging around streets and bus stops, and causing violent crime.  “In the past these sort of things might not have been recorded as crimes. Behind the bike-sheds a couple of lads have had a fight, nobody would remember – but nowadays, it’s officially reported.” Haroon and his officers work with parents and teachers to keep track of these crimes.

“I’m using all the overtime I have to tackle under 25 violence. We don’t want to criminalize kids, but we want to put some interventions in really early on.”

Asking Inspector Chughtai what he’d like to see changed in Erdington, he responds “a rebalance of housing market, especially with the sheer number of HMOs and hostels. It’s got more than anywhere else in the city – over 1000 in one concentration”. He wants HMOs to be “spread across the city, rather than being concentrated in small areas.”

Haroon’s regular monthly updates on the West Midlands Police website often report crime in neighbouring Sutton Coldfield as decreasing, whilst general crime rates increase across Erdington. But when asked about his own personal impressions of Erdington, he says that “Erdington’s got a real strong community spirit. You can see with the Erdington Task Force, and the Stockland Green Action Group.”

He says that Erdington is “unique” and that other inspectors from other parts of the city are surprised at hear how active the community is.

“During COVID there’s been a load of people that have stepped up to help people that are needy, that are vulnerable,” explains the Erdington Inspector. “It’s volunteers that do that work – it’s really selfless.”

To receive updates from the Neighbourhood Policing Teams in your area, visit www.neighbourhoodalert.co.uk

To find out more about Erdington’s police force, visit www.west-midlands.police.uk/node/2710

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NEWS: Erdington police have “changed the tone” with public over COVID-19 restrictions, including fines from £100 to £3,200

Words by Adam Smith

Erdington’s top cop has warned his police officers will be more assertive with people flouting COVID-19 restriction rules.

Inspector Haroon Chughtai explained the new tougher stance as Birmingham was placed under the Government’s new Tier 2 restrictions today – including on the spot fines and fixed penalty notices of £100, increasing up to £3200 for repeat offenders.

In an email to Erdington residents, Inspector Haroon Chughtai explained people should by now understand the pandemic and its consequences – so his officers will spend less time explaining rules and more time enforcing them.

He said: “We have changed the tone of our policing of COVID. It could be argued that we have all had enough time to live with and understand what and why restrictions exist, so while we are still using the 4 E approach (Engage, Explain, Encourage and then Enforce) which I have mentioned previously, we will move to enforcement quicker then we have previously.

Thankfully this remains a rare occurrence with most people being very sensible and responsible in their behaviour. To give you some context in the last month, we have issued two fines, one to an individual who refused to wear a mask without a valid exemption and the second was only yesterday to a business in Sutton who have little or no social distancing measures in place.”

The Tier 2 COVID-19 restrictions which come into force today (Wednesday  14th October 2020) in Erdington, Kingstanding, and across Birmingham are:

  • People must not socialise with anybody outside of their household or support bubble in any indoor setting, whether at home or in a public place
  • The rule of six will now apply to private gardens, alongside other spaces like beaches or parks (other than where specific exemptions apply in law)
  • Weddings can go ahead with restrictions on the number of attendees
  • Funerals can only have 30 attendees, with a maximum of 15 at wakes and commemorations
  • Team sports can only be played where officially organised by a club or organisation
  • People are advised to minimise the number of journeys they make
  • While you can still go on holiday, it can only be with people you live with, or your support bubble
  • Businesses and venues can continue to operate until 10pm, in a COVID-secure manner – although customers must sit at a table when eating and drinking
  • Schools, universities and places of worship will remain open

As well as the latest COVID-19 policing issues, Inspector Chughtai revealed overall crime has risen again in Erdington compared to last year’s figures with domestic violence again worryingly high.

Inspector Chughtai said: “Erdington is showing a 10% increase in overall crime, that is around 600 extra victims of crime, like I said last month domestic abuse plays a large part in this increase with 450 extra victims of domestic abuse so far this year compared to the same period last year.

Domestic abuse continues to show increases with a 40% rise, which is 450 extra victims – this remains my biggest concern and the one of the main priorities of my teams.”

He added: “Robbery and burglary continue to show good reductions, with robbery showing a 16% reduction with 33 less victims of robbery, house burglaries show a 5% reduction with18 less victims of burglary, like Sutton we have seen an increase in burglary offences recently which is taking away the good reductions made earlier in the year.”

He added: “Under 25 violence shows a 6% reduction, which has increased compared to last month – largely down to an increase is low level fights between school children and some robbery offences with young people being both victims and offenders. We are working very closely with the schools around this.”

For more information from West Midlands Police about the latest COVID-19 restrictions, visit www.west-midlands.police.uk/coronavirus

For more information from Government on the latest COVID-19 restrictions in Birmingham, Sandwell, and Solihull, visit www.gov.uk/guidance/birmingham-sandwell-and-solihull-local-restrictions

If you believe you are a victim of domestic abuse, you can seek help and advice via the freephone 24-hour National Domestic Abuse Helpline is 0808 2000 247

For more information visit www.nationaldahelpline.org.uk

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OPINION: When someone says rape…

Director of the NOT NORMAL NOT OK campaign, which challenges sexual violence within the music industry, Ed King explores the difficult first reactions to a victim’s cry for help – and the importance to see beyond them.

Words by Ed King

I want you to remember your best sexual experience. I want you to relive, in every detail, the most pleasurable and safe experience you have ever had with a lover.

I want you to remember where you were, what you wore, what you had to eat and to drink. I want you to remember what they wore, until they wore nothing. I want you to remember what they ate, what they drank.

I want you to remember ever step of the sex itself – every physical touch and every emotion that went with it. I want you to remember what they did first, what they did last. I want you to establish a timeline. I want you to remember the strength of their body, if their skin was hot, cold, rough, or smooth.

I want you to remember if, at any point, you smiled.

Now I want you to go into the street and tell the first person you meet, a stranger. Tell them everything.

Now I want you to do the same for your worst sexual experience.

___________________

This is an exercise in empathy I saw the Birmingham based Rape & Sexual Violence Project (RSVP) organisation deliver, to a group of venue operators and licensees at a South Side Pub Watch meeting. It was a ‘tough crowd’, fidgeting through a hot afternoon and a meeting they were obligated to attend. But this stopped the room. This made us think. Can you imagine actually doing that…?

The idea is to put yourself in the position of a victim of sexual assault – to better understand what they would have to go through just to report what had happened to them. Just to start a criminal investigation, to hold a rapist to account, to get justice. To stop it happening again.

It gets worse for victim too, this is only the first step – next is a line of cross examination to see if they would be a viable voice in court, with all the clichés and rebuttals that circle cases of sexual violence like patriarchal vultures.

Did you lead them on? Did you know them? Did you act like you wanted sex? Were you drinking? Were you high? Was your clothing too sexy? Did you laugh at their jokes? Did you actually say the word ‘no’…?

But the RSVP exercise has stuck with me as a powerful way to put yourself in this terrible situation, even by proxy, and to encourage even if only a thin line of understanding – something that can clarify the pain and process a victim of sexual violence will have to go through when they report what happened to them. Just in reporting it. Not the violence. Just the admin around it.

This pub watch meeting was nearly two years ago now, but the exercise came back into my head recently after I saw someone shout rape on social media – receiving a rather immediate and short sighted response, calling for ‘evidence’, from a prominent member of the local music scene.

Now this is not an attack on anyone for involved in this conversation, debate and open discussion is healthy. And there is a side of me that says fair enough, evidence is important. Crucial in a courtroom. As a journalist reporting on anything, not just cases of sexual violence, I would be screaming “facts, figures, and cross referencing,” into my laptop.

Also, to be falsely accused of sexual violence must be a terrible experience – it does happen, you can’t and shouldn’t say it doesn’t. People of all genders and identification, of all ages, of all strata in society, are capable of lies.

But the bigger problem – the much more serious, pressing, and pertinent issue – are all the cases of rape, sexual assault, violence, cohesion, abuse, and manipulation that never get reported. With all the sexual aggressors that continue to normalise their heinous actions because the victim is too scared, too wounded, too vulnerable or unsupported to go through the reporting process.

People of all genders and identification, of all ages, of all strata in society, are capable of causing pain too.

So, what do we do?

Being involved in the NOT NORMAL NOT OK campaign has been, and remains to be, a significant learning curve for me – there was a point when I may have been the one calling for something to back up someone’s claim. Although I would like to think I would have done this at a later stage, off social media, and only if it was relevant for me to do so (i.e. not challenging someone who I didn’t know about something I was not privy to).

Plus, working with RSVP and the sexual violence and modern slavery team at West Midlands Police has helped me shape my understanding – something not everyone gets the chance to experience.

But the first step to take around cases of sexual violence is relatively simple.

You listen.

Start there. Listening helps.

Listening empowers people to recall and recant the most hideous of experiences, and to find strength to do it clearly – explaining the facts, figures, and ‘evidence’ that someone at the appropriate stage will be looking for.

The point of right and wrong, of truth and lies, is a few steps down the line. And we’re only at the first – you rarely know the veracity of what anybody is telling you, about anything, from an opening statement. You certainly don’t know it from a post on social media.

Walking into this conversation immediately asking for proof will not help someone to deliver information, to explain the situation – it will only help silence them and countless other victims who need support and who need to be heard.

So, again, listen. Start there. Don’t shut someone down because you don’t want to hear what they have to say, or because you hold crossed fingers that it will turn out to be untrue.

And if it helps, use the RSVP exercise – put yourself in the position of someone who has experienced sexual violence and has found the strength to talk about. To speak out. To challenge it. To seek help and to seek help for others.

And if you are still stuck, ask yourself this – if you were sexually assaulted, or raped, and you finally found the courage to tell someone about it…

What would you want their first response to be?

Ed King is the campaign director for NOT NORMAL NOT OK, challenging sexual violence in the music industry – from dance floor to dressing room, everyone deserves a safe place to play. For more on NOT NORMAL NOT OK, visit www.notnormalnotok.com

If you have been affected by any issues surrounding sexual violence and want to seek advice or support, visit www.notnormalnotok.com/category/support-advice or email info@notnormalnotok.com  

To seek help, advice, and support from the Rape & Sexual Violence Project, visit www.rsvporg.co.uk

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