British police forces should prepare for a spike in hate crime in 2019 as the UK formally leaves the European Union, a police watchdog warned on Thursday.
In its latest report, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services, highlighted that incidents of hate crime in England and Wales spike after national events.
“So there is a real possibility that there will be a similar increase in reports in 2019, as is anticipated by the government, the United Kingdom formally leaves the European Union. Police forces should prepare for this eventuality,” the report states.
Data show the number of reported hate offences rose sharply after significant events including the murder of British soldier Lee Rigby in 2013, the Charlie Hebdo shooting in January 2015, the Paris attacks in November 2015, the beginning of the EU referendum in April 2016 and after the result in June 2016, as well as after the Westminster Bridge attack in March 2017.
Hate crime rising
Hate crime is defined as any criminal offence or incident which is perceived by the victim, or any other person, to be motivated by hostility or prejudice towards someone based on a personal characteristic such as race or ethnicity, religion or beliefs, sexual orientation, disability and transgender identity.
The watchdog revealed that the total number of recorded hate crime in England and Wales increased by 57% between 2014/2015 and 2016/2017. It also underscored that police forces have continued to see large increases in recorded hate crimes every year since records began in 2011/2012.
“This increase may show a genuine rise in hate crime, or more people coming forward to report hate crimes that have been committed, or it may be a sign of improved recording practices by the police,” the report said.
“However, it is likely that it is a combination of all three reasons,” it flagged.
The watchdog said it is “concerned by the overall approach to hate crime,” warning that victims face a “postcode lottery response, not just between forces, but sometimes within forces themselves.”
Some of the issues it raised include delays between the moment the victim reports the crime and a visit by police. In 65 out of 180 cases it reviewed across six forces, the victims were not visited by police at all.
It also warned that many offences are not properly flagged as hate crime or flagged under the wrong characteristic.
It found that more than 3,300 racially or religiously aggravated offences in 2016/2017 were not flagged as a hate crime and also suggested that police are not fully trained on how to identify groups who are victimised. An audit of 700 hate crimes in one police force showed that as many of half of the religious flags were incorrect, and should have been recorded as race instead.
However, it also highlighted some positive practices put in place in specific forces — including a “cyber community support officer” and dedicated hate crime “champions” in charge of contacting and offering support to victims — which it recommends be implemented across the country.