The police must be given adequate training to improve the national response to hate crime.
While hate crime has become a priority area for many public authorities, most notably the police but also the Crown Prosecution Service and National Probation Service, the training of those on the frontline has not kept pace.
The police are often first on the scene and increasingly the agency most under scrutiny when dealing with hate crime. But research commissioned by Nottinghamshire Police and conducted by Nottingham Trent University (NTU) found that current training leaves officers underprepared to deal with it.
Police officers had knowledge of the ‘protected characteristics’ and ‘hate crime’ procedures but too often, the research found they did not feel confident dealing with victims or establishing hostility in hate crime cases. Indeed, they were often unclear about how hate crime cases were prosecuted and unclear on the use of the uplift tariff, particularly so outside of race hate.
These findings are problematic given that, whilst recording practices are governed by ‘perception’, the CPS must be able to demonstrate evidence of hostility to prosecute as a hate crime. Take disability hate crime for example. This is often fraught with difficulty in under-reporting and prosecution. The 2015 Joint Inspectorate Review of the police, the CPS and probation service found that despite recommendations made in 2013 to deal with disability hate crime, all of these agencies still had much to do to achieve full implementation of the recommendations.
Officers interviewed by NTU were asked if they felt comfortable questioning victims about disability. The majority said they were unlikely to ask a direct question to establish if a person was disabled but would try to gather information by indirect questioning and probing. For example, if officers thought the victim had a disability they had not disclosed, they tried to find out from other sources including family members, GPs, social services and, sometimes, housing providers.
This trial-and-error approach took time and effort and was often fruitless. It meant that best modes of communication with disabled victims and safeguarding practices could be missed.
Officers clearly understood that disability hate crime was under-reported and could articulate valid reasons why disabled people might not report it. They recognised that repeated incidents could blight lives and also that offenders often chose disabled people because they perceived them to be ‘easy targets’ with little comeback for the offender.
Despite this, police officers felt their training on hate crime ‘let them down’. It did not equip them sufficiently to deal with incidents. The training was dominated by National Centre for Applied Learning Technologies (NCALT) online learning, which officers felt failed to address the key skills and knowledge needed to deal effectively with hate crime. The lack of human input on NCALT training was particularly problematic as in hate crime cases empathy with victims is paramount given the heightened personal impact and potential for detrimental community effects.
Officers felt they benefitted from some exposure to disabled victims either through their policing, personal lives or more rarely through training. This helped to increase their knowledge and confidence in dealing with disabled victims.
To build cases for prosecution, officers need to be able to communicate effectively with disabled victims to identify whether their disability was a motivating factor in the crime. This is because hostility must be established for a hate crime prosecution. Yet their training failed to guide officers to other agencies that could help during the investigative and prosecution process and when considering alternatives to prosecution.
Many officers rarely felt able to approach the CPS for advice before charge which is significant given the need to establish hostility. The right guidance and improved ‘signposting’ would better equip police officers to identify and locate evidence of hostility (especially in disability cases).
They also reported that feedback from both the CPS and witness support was often patchy or non-existent, which meant they were often unaware of the outcome of cases, most importantly whether the uplift tariff for hate crime was successful and if not, why not. Clearly ‘hostility’ requires great emphasis in training.
Training should also be underpinned by an acknowledgement of the ‘victim’s role’. To help officers identify hate crime victims, communicate effectively, build strong cases for prosecution and help safeguard victims we must maximise opportunities for them to have ‘exposure’ to a range of hate crime victims.
Finally, we must recognise that the police cannot deal with hate crime alone. It requires a multi-agency response. Nottinghamshire may show the way.
Acting on the report findings, Nottinghamshire Police, Nottingham Community Safety Partnerships, the Hate Crime Steering Group and concerned charities such as Mencap are now coming together. They could well provide a template for a better response to hate crime nationally.
Dr Loretta Trickett, Nottingham Law School, at Nottingham Trent University, with Dr Paul Hamilton, from NTU’s School of Social Science