News and Comment

New research into how police services deal with disability hate crime

Wednesday 22 June 2011

It’s Learning Disability Week and here at OPM we’re really committed to raising awareness about and developing solutions to tackle hate crime against disabled people. We were commissioned by the learning disability charity Mencap to conduct research exploring how police services across England tackle hate crime against people with a learning disability. The report was published earlier this week.

The findings indicate that police services face a number of challenges in tackling hate crime against people with learning disabilities, and that approaches vary widely. However there are also many instances of good and innovative practice. The tackling of hate crime could thus be vastly improved if police services got together to share their learning and coordinate their practices.

Infrastructure and set-up for tackling hate crime

We found little consistency in the structures of different police services to tackle hate crime and many don’t have dedicated hate crime officers or units in place. Other than dedicated hate crime officers, hate crime is tackled by a variety of police officers and personnel, such as Community Liaison Officers, Diversity Officers and Police Community Support Officers.

This suggests that there is a need to ensure that they work in a joined-up way and that there are clear lines of reporting and accountability so that incidents of hate crime don’t slip through the cracks.

The police services we consulted all have partnerships in place that allow them to develop relationships with other agencies but very few have partnerships that are specifically in place to address issues relating to disabilities.

Reporting and recording of hate crime

Our consultation with people with learning disabilities found that they tend to report hate crime to social workers or housing associations, individuals with whom they already have relationships. In contrast, police services stated that the majority of disability hate crime reports they receive come directly to them. Only a small number of police services link in with partner agencies and local organisations as a means to receive reports of hate crime.

However, some police services are doing innovative work to encourage people with learning disabilities to report hate crime. Such work often includes an element of interacting with and getting to know police officers and others who are involved in tackling these issues. Other police services are working with local partners to support individuals that want to report incidents at places they visit often or are easier for them to access than the police station.

Only one police service had a recording of a disability hate crime by type of impairment. Four services reported that they record the type of hate crime that has occurred. Most services suggested that their officers could be better at identifying and recording hate crime.

Prevalence of hate crime against people with a learning disability

All police services agreed that the level of reported disability hate crime is much lower than that of actual disability hate crime. This can prevent police services from making properly informed decisions about effective resourcing.

All police services felt that low prevalence figures were a result of under-reporting but only a small number felt that low prevalence figures were a result of non-identification and miscategorisation by police officers. On the other hand it is encouraging that the majority of police services are now recording hate incidents as well as hate crimes.

Supporting and working with victims of hate crime

Fewer than half of the police services we consulted reported having dedicated victim support officers or victim and/or witness support departments in place but the majority of police services recognised the importance of working with partners such as local authorities and local advocacy groups.

However, our consultation with people with learning disabilities found significant dissatisfaction with the way they have been handled by the police. Police officers were often felt to be ‘patronising’ or ‘rude’ and also did now know how to communicate with victims with a learning disability in an appropriate manner. The majority of police services we consulted with reported that police officers had only received general equality and diversity training with little specific focus on learning disability.

Evidencing for prosecution of hate crime

Almost all hate crime policies include guidance on investigating hate crime in general but we didn’t find any disability-specific investigation and evidencing procedures in place. Additionally, very few police services made specific reference to special measures or to reasonable adjustments that could be made to support people with a learning disability.

Moreover, consultation with people with learning disabilities revealed negative experiences of providing evidence to the police. Some people reported that they have often had to provide statements and evidence multiple times and felt that as people with a learning disability they are often not regarded as being capable of providing reliable accounts.

To read more about our recommendations and the rest of the report click here.