Thames Valley Police – “Hate crime”, “hate incidents”, and use of stop and search.

The Thames Valley Strategic Independent Advisory Group convened on 7 November for the final quarterly meeting of the year.

The group covered a lot of ground, including stop and search, equality and diversity, and hate crime.

On stop and search, there was debate about why officers felt a lack of confidence in carrying out stop and search. I probed the Assistant Chief Constable on this. It is primarily due to political pressures. Some members of the group noted the disproportionate use of stop and search on members of the black and minority ethnic community.

I advised the group that data for London, for example, demonstrated that in specific geographies where there are issues where stop and search is widely used and at specific times, it is not used disproportionately on specific groups of individuals, as they are the largest groups of people out at that particular time. There was broad agreement that this was correct for Thames Valley also. The term “disproportionate” was being used as a statistical term – use of stop and search is not, as a matter of empirical fact, disproportionate.

For hate crime, debate ensued once more. I had pointed to the views of the former Chief Constable, Sara Thornton, as well as the Police and Crime Commissioner for Thames Valley on the matter. It was clear – there is no such thing as a hate crime. There is no such criminal offence. Where the distinction comes, is if someone reports a crime (assault, burglary, etc.) that they believe to be motivated by hate, it is recorded by the police. The crime is the assault, burglary etc. with a “hate crime” label attached. Anyone reporting a “hate crime” where no actual crime has taken place, the police legally has to record it as a “hate incident”.

I noted that a lot of the criticism the police faces is due to the time they spend investigating “hate incidents”, for example, on social media, where no crime had taken place. This was acknowledged by the Assistant Chief Constable. I also pointed out the inconsistency in individuals self classifying “hate crime” – i.e. the “victim” decides if an action toward them was a “hate incident”, not the police, not the law, not the courts. This is how you get incidents where someone flashing their car headlights at another person is reported to the police. This was completely at odds with the rest of criminal law.

The police (not just Thames Valley) has some way to go to communicate this to the wider public, who see what they perceive to be a crack-down on freedom of speech.

Among other topics, we will be discussing Gypsies and Travellers in the next quarterly meeting. This has been in the news a lot in recent weeks, given the impact they have had with a string of illegal encampments around Oxford.