Merseyside Police has apologised for claiming "being offensive is an offence" as part of a campaign to encourage people to report hate crime.
The force came under fire over the weekend after the message appeared on a billboard in Wirral.
It has since clarified that while hate crime is an offence, "being offensive is not in itself an offence".
A spokesman added the poster was "well intentioned" by the local policing team in Wirral but it was "incorrect".
The message on the billboard sparked criticism over whether being offensive constituted a crime.
It was widely condemned on social media, with one person describing it as "chilling" while another called it a "horrible look".
Merseyside Police said it "apologises for any confusion this may have caused," adding "hate crime is an offence and will not be tolerated".
"Hate crime can come in various guises that can include assault, criminal damage, verbal and written online abuse," the spokesman added.
According to the Crown Prosecution Service, a hate crime is "criminal behaviour where the perpetrator is motivated by hostility or demonstrates hostility towards the victim's disability, race, religion, sexual orientation or transgender identity".
In October, it was reported how 105,090 hate crimes had been recorded by the police in England and Wales, excluding Greater Manchester Police, in the year ending March 2020.
This was an increase of 8% compared with the year ending March 2019.