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The role of the police in addressing hate crime: The case of the Police Service of Northern Ireland

By Gary Reid, Chief Inspector, Police Service of Northern Ireland Lisnasharragh

The Northern Ireland Police Service presents best practice in its work on hate crime - in terms of training, legal and psychological support to victims of racist crime, cooperation with NGOs working in this field, etc.

The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) takes a victim orientated approach to hate crime. It is the PSNI’s policy to accept without challenge the view of a victim or any other person that the crime was motivated by hate on one of the defined grounds. A police officer cannot decide whether or not to record or investigate a hate incident or crime because there appears to be no evidence to support a perception. PSNI believes this approach sends out a strong message that police will treat victims of hate crime seriously and will conduct thorough and objective investigations.

Presently the PSNI have six defined types of hate crime: sectarian, racist, homophobic, faith/religion, disability and transphobic. Racism accounts for approximately 30 % of hate crime in Northern Ireland, with sectarianism being the highest recorded hate crime at 60%. Hate crime in Northern Ireland is approximately 1.6% of the overall crime rate.

The Police Service aims and objectives are to record, respond and investigate all reported hate incidents in a consistent, robust, proactive and effective manner. We ensure that every reported hate investigation is appropriately supervised. Whilst it is the responsibility of every police officer to deal with hate crime, some officers receive additional training.

It is the PSNI’s policy to accept without challenge the view of a victim or any other person that the crime was motivated by hate on one of the defined grounds

The Hate and Signal Crime Officer’s (HSCO) role is maintained by those officers based in Neighbourhood Policing Units (NPU) in every police district. The role includes hate incidents and hate crimes as well as monitoring hate signal incidents and crimes that affect those in minority or vulnerable groupings. Currently PSNI have 86 HSCOs at the rank of sergeant. Every victim of a hate incident is offered the assistance of a NPU officer carrying out the Hate and Signal Crime role and provided with information relating to local statutory and voluntary support agencies.

The HSCOs currently attend a 5-day training course to help develop their investigative skills. This training is further enhanced with the use of external partners giving bespoke training around diversity issues.

Reviews are carried out for all hate crimes at 10 days and 30 days by the NPU sergeants and Inspectors for their areas. In addition to this the NPU Inspector is required to contact the victim and seek their views around the police investigation. Hate crimes are also randomly dip sampled by local police supervisors and Headquarter’s Service Improvement Department.

NGOs

Independent Advisory Groups (IAG) provide independent advice on the development and review of policy, procedure and practices of the police to ensure that the aims of policing with the community are met and provide a safeguard against the service disadvantaging any section of the community through lack of understanding, ignorance or mistaken beliefs.

Advisory groups can give advice about a range of issues. They can assist by offering a community-based perspective on policing plans and crime and disorder strategies.

Advocacy Service

BMP - 165.8 kb

The PSNI funds an advocacy service for victims of hate crime. There are two advocates that deal with racist crime. Their role is to contact each victim and help signpost them to other services such as legal advice, housing issues, heath and psychological support. This is further supported by Victim Support Northern Ireland who are partners with PSNI in the scheme.

The advocate will also help the victim around the police investigation and will facilitate contact with the police. This is designed to give the victim confidence in reporting hate crime to the police. The advocates are also tasked with the role of increasing reports of racist hate crime by 10% each year. This is an attempt by the PSNI to help tackle the under reporting of hate crime to the police. The advocates meet with police each month to review the previous month’s hate crimes. This allows the advocates the opportunity to update police of both good and bad practice encountered during that period. This update then allows the police to fast track the addressing of areas of concern by the victim.

Hate Incident Practical Action (HIPA)

The HIPA scheme is jointly funded by the PSNI and the Housing Executive for Northern Ireland. This provides for practical help to victims who have been the subject of attacks either to their home or in their home. The schemes provides locks and replaces broken windows at no cost to the victim. They also receive personal attack alarms it they so require.

Legislation

Northern Ireland has no hate crime legislation but sentencing can be increased by the courts under the following legislation: Criminal Justice (No2) Northern Ireland Order 2004 (NI Hate Crime Legislation). This provides courts with powers to impose heavier sentences when an offence is aggravated by hostility based on the victim’s actual or presumed religion, race, sexual orientation or disability.

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