A growing focus on investigating hate crimes risks distracting police from solving serious crimes including rapes and murders, a policing chief has warned.
Donna Jones, the lead for the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners on serious and organised crime and victims, said a near doubling in hate crimes in the past six years reflected a “big push” for police to investigate rather than necessarily a real increase.
Home Office figures last week showed a rise in hate crimes recorded by police from around 60,000 in 2015/16 to 115,000 in the year to March 2021.
"There is a huge push around hate crime when the key thing is that we have got serious violence increasing year on year particularly in my own patch with homicides and rapes,” said Ms Jones, police and crime commissioner for Hampshire, told The Sunday Telegraph in an interview.
"There are only so many hours police officers can police for. Whilst the statistics show that there has been a big increase in hate crimes, is that because there has been a real increase or an increase in awareness and therefore more reporting?
"The police forces prioritising the highest risk, highest harm offences and bringing the perpetrators to justice as quickly as possible is a priority for me.
"It is about threat, risk and harm. I am not saying hate crime should be disregarded. It can demonstrate behaviour that might lead to violence, whether bullying or abusing people for protected characteristics like the colour of their skin or where they were born.
"Police forces must not lose sight of policing of the highest harm offences where people are being raped, murdered and exploited."
Ms Jones’s comments echo warnings by the former head of the national police chiefs’ council Sara Thornton that investigating hate crime risked distracting police from their core role of handling emergencies, solving violent crime and burglaries and neighbourhood policing.
They follow controversial cases where people including children have been investigated for transphobic comments on social media.
Former police officer Harry Miller last year launched a high court action to defend free speech after being investigated by police for liking a limerick on Twitter that appeared to mock the transgender community.
Hate crimes and incidents are defined as those perceived to be motivated by hostility or prejudice based on a personal characteristic.
Five strands are monitored centrally: race or ethnicity, religion or beliefs, sexual orientation, disability, and transgender identity.
But Ms Jones said she was opposed to extending the legislation to create new misogyny offences on the basis that there were already laws that covered it.
“If someone is acting in a misogynistic way in the workplace, there are employment laws to deal with that. If someone is very misogynistic towards me, isn’t that general harassment. There are already pieces of legislation,” she said.
She said the key role of elected police and crime commissioners was to reflect what the public wanted and articulate that to chief constables and their forces.
They wanted “high harm” crimes investigated but also expected them to harness the uplift of 20,000 police officers nationally to pursue crimes that impacted on their daily lives but had seen charging rates fall such as thefts and anti-social behaviour.
“With reduced budgets and officer numbers, police chiefs have had no alternative but to focus on higher harm crimes. Now with the uplift, the public are saying they want police to tackle those medium level and in some cases lower level crime like anti-social behaviour,” said Ms Jones.
“These are volume crimes that you are much more likely to be a victim of: non-domestic break-ins with thefts from cars, garages or sheds. These have an impact on people, yes, to a less extent than being badly beaten up, but the impact is still there.”