Disabled activists have welcomed a new campaign aimed at improving the way the police handle hate crime against people with learning difficulties, but have warned that it could distract from wider efforts to address the issue.
The charity Mencap this week launched its Stand By Me campaign, and a report based on research examining 14 police forces across England.
Mark Goldring, Mencap’s chief executive, said: “We continue to hear reports of incidents being dismissed as ‘only antisocial behaviour’ with little or no real action being taken.
“For the people with a learning disability who are suffering from daily abuse, attacks and harassment, this is simply not good enough.”
The report calls for better training in most police forces on “identifying, recording and handling hate crime reports made by people with a learning disability”.
Among its other recommendations, it says forces should: build partnerships with disabled people’s organisations and those run by people with learning difficulties; ensure there is at least one officer with “dedicated responsibility” for dealing with hate crime; and encourage third-party reporting.
Anne Novis, who leads on hate crime issues for the UK Disabled People’s Council, welcomed Mencap’s decision to campaign on hate crime but said the focus on people with learning difficulties was “a distraction”.
She said the focus should not be impairment-specific, but on “why people vilify and view disabled people as a valid target”.
She wants to see a national pan-disability campaign, led by disabled people, with funding for organisations to “come together and work together” on addressing disability hate crime.
Stephen Brookes, a coordinator of the Disability Hate Crime Network, said that hate crime “happens across all disabilities and age groups, and the failures are systemic and deep”.
He said it was important to address not only police failings, but also those of other organisations, such as housing associations, neighbourhood watch schemes and residential homes.
He said: “Our message is clear and unambiguous – we all need to work together across all sectors to stop this appalling crime.”
A Mencap spokeswoman said that many of its recommendations would improve the police’s treatment of all disability hate crime victims.
She said Mencap had been working with pan-disability campaigners who have been supportive of its work and “recognise the campaign has generally raised awareness of hate crime against disabled people” and has given campaigners a “good platform to talk about the issues more generally”.
She added: “Mencap will continue to work with people from across the disability sector as well as the police and other statutory agencies to support disability hate crime victims and help end hate crime.”