Last year the police recorded 120,00 non-crime hate incidents. Police recording of incidents that fall short of threshold needed for criminal status is often needed for good reasons. But our letter argues that the introduction of subjective criteria, combined with existing practical problems, exacerbate the likelihood of negative, unintended consequences. We conclude with some practical suggestions that would limit the potential for abuse of this legislation:
To The Rt Hon Kit Malthouse MP
Minister for Policing
Dear Mr. Malthouse,
We are writing to express our deep concerns about certain aspects of the new Hate Crime Guidance published recently by the College of Policing, and their impact upon the way in which police forces record non-crime incidents. We understand, and accept, that Hate Crime is abhorrent and can lead to serious consequences for the victims of such crimes. We also understand that the recording of such occurrences plays a role in preventing further incidents and in enabling the police and other agencies to deal effectively with such crimes and fully support the aim of effective policing.
We do, however, remain concerned about the particular relationship between (1) the guidance on responding to non-crime hate incidents (https://www.app.college.police.uk/app-content/major-investigation-and-public-protection/hate-crime/responding-to-non-crime-hate-incidents/); (2) the way in which police forces record data relating to these incidents; and (3) the use of data, especially by vetting units in relation to enhanced disclosure and barring checks.
The Guidance states:
“Where it is established that a criminal offence has not taken place, but the victim or any other person perceives that the incident was motivated wholly or partially by hostility, it should be recorded and flagged as a non-crime hate incident.”
Any reporter or accuser is termed “victim” although there is no evidence that any crime has been perpetrated against him or her. The “victim” has only to claim that some action or speech “was motivated wholly or partially by hostility” and “does not have to justify or provide evidence of their belief for the purposes of reporting, and police officers or staff should not directly challenge this perception.”
Furthermore, “Police officers may also identify a non-crime hate incident, even where the victim or others do not” because “victims… may not be aware that they are a victim of a non-crime hate incident, even though this is clear to others.”
The data of these “non crime” incidents are recorded, at least by some UK police forces, on databases intended for recording details of criminal offences. The contents of these databases are then subject to checks by vetting officers when people apply for employment.
The consequence of this combination of factors is that it is possible for a person to have a record of having “non-crime hate” incidents on the basis of the untested, and quite possibly unfounded, assertion of any person. These records can then go on to have a real and seriously damaging effect on the life of the person about whom such reports have been made if that person were to need to apply for a position that would mandate a (sometimes enhanced) Disclosure and Barring Service check. We understand that these records are kept in perpetuity and never deleted.
We understand that the individual vetting officers are tasked with doing their best to exercise discretion and judgment on the basis of what is in the records, but:
(1) leaving a matter of such importance to a single individual with so few checks is not safe, even if the great majority of such individuals approach their work in good faith;
(2) in practice, there is great inconsistency between different individual vetting officers in how they approach their task; and
(3) vetting officers have only the information on the database on which to base their decision, which gives very little clue in practice as to whether the accusation made is well-founded (especially in light of the Guidance). Furthermore, multiple such incidents, even if all of them are unfounded, have the real potential to lead to a person not passing an enhanced Disclosure and Barring Service check, with potentially very serious consequences for that individual.
Because of the subjective nature of the guidelines, there is a real possibility of abuse of this system by people acting in bad faith, either to extort or blackmail individuals by threatening to make false reports which they know will never need to be tested in order to have an adverse effect, or by routinely making unfounded or spurious reports against those who express political views with which they disagree, with the malicious intention of suppressing the expression of opposing political views by the threat of real adverse consequences.
We understand the need to record, for intelligence purposes, incidents that do not amount to criminal offences. In some instances, as the Guidance points out, a particular incident may not on its own be a criminal offence but, in combination with later incidents, might amount to an offence such as harassment which should rightly be pursued by the police. This does not, however, justify (or require) a system which has any realistic possibility of allowing unfounded and untested accusations ever to have a significant adverse impact on the standing or freedom of the person against whom such an accusation has been made.
We feel that the time has come for a full review of the recording of such matters by police forces across the UK. Taking the example of the Metropolitan Police, such matters are currently recorded on the same system that logs actual criminal offences such as theft, rape, burglary, serious assault, etc. The data on this system is never deleted. We feel that the recording of matters that do not amount to a criminal offence should be done only on a system that is not used for recording criminal offences. This would allow for patterns of behaviour to be identified and dealt with before a more serious incident occurs, but people should not be tarnished for life for a single incident that may be purely in the perception of either a third party or of a police officer, and cannot be tested before a court.
We propose, therefore, that non-crime incidents (including non-crime hate incidents) be recorded in a different manner, perhaps using intelligence systems instead, with a mandatory review date that should be democratically decided at a national level. We propose they be retained only if there should be a genuine concern over escalating behaviour that could cause harm. If there is no recurrence within a given period of time, then this information should be deleted. We do not have a strong view about specifically what that time period should be – this will require consultation – but it should be reasonable and proportionate.
We believe that this proposal would be fair to those who are genuinely victims of hate crime, ensuring that they be supported, but also to those who are wrongfully accused and should never have had their name appear on a crime reporting system. It would also ensure that the retention of data by police forces would better protect the privacy of individuals, as well as reducing the amount of data that police have to trawl through when they are dealing with real incidents. With the sheer amount of data that is stored by police forces around the country, it is important to ensure that police officers do not end up in a position where they cannot see the wood for the trees.
We request that you give this matter serious consideration.
Don’t Divide Us
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