Is it me, or does the joyous celebration that was the Paralympics seem a long, long time ago? There has been a fair amount of coverage in the media recently regarding the police approach to disability hate crime. Coverage which has, in general, given the impression that we are doing very little to tackle this crime and support victims. As the National Policing Lead for Disability, I am keen to dispel this myth and highlight some of the good work ongoing across the country to improve the way that we deal with this abhorrent crime.
The media coverage highlighted that many victims of disability hate crime still don’t have the confidence in the police, or the accessibility, to report it. There is little doubt from work done by the Equalities and Human Rights Commission that the overall levels of reported incidents do not reflect the true extent of people’s lived experiences. It seems an obvious point to make but the police can only investigate incidents, and show people that we take hate crimes seriously and are committed to tackling it, if it is reported. The True Vision website was created to simplify the reporting process for these crimes, and we would urge anyone who feels they have been victimised, and members of the public who witness such incidents, to report it to the police by calling 101, or online at www.report-it.org.uk. The hate crime statistics published by the Home Office today show that we are moving in the right direction, with nearly an 8 per cent increase in reports of disability hate crime over the last year.
Of course, there is more work to be done and the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s report; “Hidden in Plain Sight”, identified areas for improvement in 2011. Since this report police have made progress in improving our service, with focus on speaking to disabled people to understand the types of harassment they face, why they don’t feel confident reporting it and what we can do to remove those barriers.
The police service has to be accessible to everyone, regardless of their individual needs. I have urged all police chiefs to sign up to the British Sign Language Charter, which pledges to improve access for deaf people to services, promotes sign language and encourages regular consultations with the deaf community. I am also working to establish Communities of Practice through the College of Policing focusing on accessibility, autism and dementia and I’ve written to chief constables for an update on the progress of forces in this area. The National Autism Society has also been complimentary of our progress, stating that they are pleased with the measures taken by police so far to improve understanding of autism.
I would also like to promote the good work of Lancashire Constabulary, which I will be encouraging other forces to adopt in their attempts to tackle disability hate crime. The Lancashire model initially records all crime against a disabled person as a potential hate crime incident. This has led to a huge increase in reported, rather than actual, incidents. The EHRC report stated that police were failing to correctly identify incidents as disability hate crime, and I feel that the Lancashire model will go a long way towards improving this. The Disability Hate Crime Network has praised this approach, which they feel increases the confidence of disabled people to report to the police.
I am confident that we are moving in the right direction and the actions agreed in response to the 2011 EHRC report, with the full backing and commitment of chief constables and the support of the College of Policing, are being implemented. Our understanding of disability hate crime, from the perpetrators, to the victims, to the witnesses, is improving all the time, but I must stress again that it will only be through increased reporting that we can further combat disability hate crime and continue to improve our approach.
The ACPO and College of Policing “EHRC Out in the open: A manifesto for change” can be found here: http://www.college.police.uk/en/docs/Disability_hate_crime_implementation_framework.pdf