A new London-wide scheme has seen the number of disability hate crimes recorded by police increase by 500 per cent within weeks of its launch.
The Metropolitan Police’s Disability Hate Crime Matters (DHC Matters) initiative only began rolling out in January, with briefings to officers from teams responsible for community safety, road and transport, local policing, emergency response and crime screening.
But already – even before it has fully rolled out – the scheme has seen 89 offences recorded as disability hate crimes across London in February, compared with 15 in the same month in 2015, an increase of about 500 per cent.
DHC Matters is led jointly by the Metropolitan Police and the pan-London Deaf and disabled people’s organisation (DDPO) Inclusion London, and was the idea of disabled activist Anne Novis, the force’s independent chair of its disability hate crime working group and an Inclusion London trustee.
The initiative aims to improve the way police identify, investigate and respond to disability hate crime.
Senior officers are being given a three-hour briefing on DHC Matters and will pass on that information to all of their frontline officers.
The briefing includes information on questioning victims about whether they believe they were targeted as a disabled person; collecting evidence to prove a crime involved disability-related hostility; and ensuring all perceived disability hate incidents are recorded on the force’s Crime Report Information System.
Scores of disabled campaigners, senior police officers and representatives of the Crown Prosecution Service and other organisations were at New Scotland Yard last week to hear about the initiative and offer their ideas on how to increase its impact.
Novis told the event that the increase in recording in its first two months was “encouraging” but still “does not reflect the true scope of hostility against us”.
And she warned that hate crime initiatives would only work if “Deaf and disabled people, victims and our own organisations get involved in this work”.
She said: “It’s not about just safeguarding. We expect legal justice.
“We do not accept ever ‘mercy killing’ as an excuse for murder, we do not perceive abuse, bullying, harassment of Deaf and disabled people as anything other than hate crime, whatever setting it’s in, from the school playground to day centres, residential care, in our homes, in community settings, our work or on the streets.
“Until we get all agencies realising they have a responsibility to record and report such cases to the police we will always experience injustice.”
She added: “I ask all here to ensure you record it, report to the police, investigate it properly, stop it, and help us access the equality of justice we deserve.”
Tracey Lazard, chief executive of Inclusion London, told the event that disability hate crime was “a daily reality for thousands of Deaf and disabled people in this country and it is on the increase, yet historically and still pretty much today it has remained pretty much invisible within the public policy and policing resources arenas”.
She said the increased reports resulting from DHC Matters mean “we are getting to the point where the genie is going to be out of the bottle”.
She added: “If reported disability hate crime begins to reflect the reality of our lives, it will become an issue that cannot be ignored and must be tackled.”
Lazard said that DDPOs “must play a key, essential role in tackling disability hate crime”, and added: “We need to build the skills and capacity of DDPOs so we can carry out long-term, sustainable, disability hate crime awareness-raising to local Deaf and disabled people, as well as the wider community.”
She said it was also vital to have high quality advocacy services, run by DDPOs, and an increase in the “effectiveness and capacity” of third-party reporting services, to allow disabled people to report hate crimes without contacting the police directly.
Lazard stressed the need for sustainable funding for hate crime work by DDPOs, a point echoed during the event by other disabled people.
Chief superintendent Dave Stringer, of the force’s community engagement team and the Met’s operational lead on hate crime, said it was “crucial” that the initiative was a partnership with Deaf and disabled people and DDPOs, because “if it isn’t, it won’t work”.
Novis told the event: “The barriers we face are more to do with systems and procedures that cause our experiences to be lost as though they do not matter.
“The full impact on individuals and our community is also not captured and we lose confidence in those who should be helping us most, due to processes and delays that lead to inaction and lack of justice.”
The ultimate objective of DHC Matters, according to detective constable Maria Gray, a member of the force’s disability hate crime working group, is to ensure disability hate crime cases reach court and result in stricter sentences under section 146 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003.
Under section 146, the courts must increase the sentence for any offence where a defendant has demonstrated hostility towards a disabled person, or where the offence has been shown to be motivated by hostility.
After the event, Stringer told Disability News Service (DNS) that he would expect the number of recorded hate incidents to rise even further.
He said: “I would expect that number to rise still as people within Deaf and disabled communities talk to each other about their experience within policing and to further rise when we do awareness-raising within communities that the police are going to take this seriously.”
He said he had always been “shocked and surprised” – when he has discussed the issue with DDPOs – by the high proportion of disabled people who have been subject to harassment, intimidation and victimisation, and by the low number of people who have reported these incidents to the police.
He said: “I have never had to be persuaded that there is a significant issue. It is understanding the reasons why the lived experience of DDPOs doesn’t translate into numbers of crimes recorded.
“My role is to… make sure that we translate the experiences that people have into confidence to reporting to police, into effective investigations, into prosecutions.”
He said he was “confident” that restrictions on police funding would not affect the initiative, pointing out that the force had in the last 18 months increased the number of officers in community safety units, which investigate hate crime and domestic abuse, from 500 to 900.
Novis told DNS that she believed the initiative was “a game-changer” within the Metropolitan Police, and that senior officers had already recognised that.
The challenge now, she said, would be to ensure that it was “embedded” within the force.
Ruth Bashall, another leading disabled activist and member of the disability hate crime working group, said the initiative would need leadership from local police commanders if it was to succeed.
She said: “It’s brilliant to at least see some development. That the numbers have gone up is a real credit to the work that has been done.”
But she said the real challenge would be to sustain this progress and ensure it was “embedded into what the Met do”.
Picture: Anne Novis (centre) at the event with commander Mak Chishty, the Met’s strategic lead on hate crime