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Sara Thornton Blog: Unity and respect needed, not hate crime - 30 June 2016

30 Jun 2016

As the country grapples with the outcome of the EU referendum, there are clearly very different views on the outcome of the vote and what it means for the UK’s future.  That we are moving into a period of unprecedented change is undisputed.

Of course, there will be debate –quite reasonably that will be loud and passionate - but there is never any excuse for abuse, racism or hate crime.  Police around the country are ready to respond to people who cross that line robustly.  We have an important role to play in communities, helping people to feel safe and secure about being themselves as they go about their lives – we take that responsibility seriously.  Many forces are meeting with members of their communities who could be or feel at risk and offering them reassurance and support. 

Like the vast, vast majority of people, I have been shocked and disgusted at some the cases of racial or anti-immigrant abuse that have been reported this week.  We have also been heartened by the people who have intervened to challenge abusive behaviour, condemn it and reassure victims that those views are not representative of Britain. 

Since last Thursday, 331 hate crime incidents have been reported to the national online reporting site True Vision compared to the weekly average of 63 reports.  It is important to remember that this is only one reporting mechanism and extensive focus on this issue in the last few days will have influenced these numbers by making hate crime and the site more visible and encouraging people to report.  We also cannot determine how many of reports are linked to the referendum.

The national community tensions team has also analysed reports from forces which today shows an increase in community tension directed at the migrant community since the referendum.   In a number of forces, migrants are reporting verbal abuse, negative social media commentary including xenophobic language, anti-migrant leafleting and, in very limited numbers, physical assaults. All of these incidents are under active investigation.

We want to make sure we have the full picture of tensions and hate crime so we are best equipped to tackle it and prevent it.  NPCC Lead for Hate Crime, ACC Mark Hamilton has now asked all forces to provide weekly hate crime returns, which will be collated centrally. This is something we do after major national and international events where there is likely to be an impact on levels of hate crime. Historically spikes in tensions and hate crime have returned to previous levels relatively quickly and this is still a very small minority of people behaving unacceptably.

More people are reporting hate crime than ever before but it is still significantly underreported.  I’ve heard of a small number of people this week saying they feel scared to leave the house.  We are there to deal with this kind of abuse so our message to them is don’t give way to bullies and don’t suffer in silence.  We will protect you but we need to know what’s happening to stop it and bring offenders to justice.    Report to your local force by calling 101 or using our True Vision website (www.report-it.org.uk).  In an emergency, always dial 999.

The outcome of the negotiations about the UK’s relationship with Europe in the future has the potential to impact on law enforcement and security.  Before the referendum, we made it clear we have a need to work closely and at speed with European countries to keep people in the UK safe from organised crime, cyberattack, terrorism or violent offenders. 

For those who may be feeling nervous, I can give assurance that our relationships with law enforcement colleagues in Europe and the rest of the world are stable.  Nothing has changed yet and cooperation with Europe to keep people safe and stop criminals continues as it did before last week’s result.   In relation to counter terrorism and our national security, UK policing has built a strong network of officers stationed overseas who work closely alongside our operational partners and this network is expanding.

My job is about working with police forces to keep people safe and enforce the law, not getting involved in politics, but police leaders like myself do have a responsibility to set out our operational requirements to politicians.  As the Government enters negotiations with the EU, we will make sure those operational requirements are absolutely clear.  We’ve said it before and will say it again, we must maintain our ability to share intelligence, biometrics and other data at speed and to work with foreign police forces on linked investigations, enquiries and arrests.

Unity and respect are hugely important for our country right now.  We take our role in promoting cohesion very seriously so expect to see police officers out around the country engaging with communities, picking up and dealing with tensions and problems, and showing complete intolerance to hate crime.