Racism: More than 600 hate crimes reported to PSNI

By Sara Girvin

'Hate' spray-painted signImage source, PA Media

There have been 626 racist hate crimes reported in Northern Ireland over the past year.

That's down by 73 on the previous year.

But PSNI chief superintendent Emma Bond says that doesn't necessarily mean fewer racist hate crimes are taking place.

"While it's encouraging to see a drop in some respects, the bigger concern for us is that it could indicate a lack of reporting and potentially a lack of confidence," she said.

"Hate crime is traditionally one of those areas that we know is underreported, so actually an increase in reporting levels is something that we would tend to want to see.

"We know that hate hurts, that it has an impact far beyond the individual, far reaching into communities, and it's actually only by us knowing about it, that allows us to take steps to try to prevent it or provide the relevant support to victims.

Media caption,
Racism in Northern Ireland: 'Nobody born to be a racist'

"What we also know with hate offending is that it can be on an increasing scale of severity - so actually the earlier that people report to us, the more likelihood there is that we could prevent it escalating into more serious or potentially criminal offences."

'PSNI wants to improve'

A total of 1,582 hate crimes took place in all over the past year, 640 of those were sectarian.

The most common racist hate crimes to take place are criminal damage and assault.

Police say around 13% to 14% of all racist hate crimes result in someone being punished.

That's around half the rate seen with other crimes.

Chief Supt Bond said the PSNI wants to improve on this.

"We fully recognise that trust and confidence in the justice system quite often comes from successful prosecutions and our ability actually make offenders amenable for the incident they have perpetrated."

She said that there is also an issue with "victims unwilling to see the criminal justice system through".

Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK without specific hate crime laws.

A review of hate crime legislation in Northern Ireland is currently underway.

So is Northern Ireland a difficult place to live for ethnic minorities?

Chief Supt Bond said: "We know that nobody is born to hate and nobody is born racist so it must be learned behaviour."

She said "education and wider awareness is key" to ensuring "ignorance does not manifest itself in attacks happening".

"For some people, they're facing difficulties," she added.

"Whether that's born out of a lack of tolerance, a lack of knowledge, a position of ignorance, the real experiences we hear of on a day to day basis show that there are people suffering significantly within communities just because of who they are, and I think it's incumbent upon us as a police service, and our partners and wider communities, to all play the part that we can to make that come to an end."