DON’T dismiss as banter what could be a hate crime.
That’s the plea from the man tasked with raising awareness of incidents in Rotherham.
PC Chris Nicholson runs the Operation Solar, a confidential email reporting scheme in which aims to to encourage more people to report offences.
“People’s attitudes are changing but need to be aware what hate crime is,” he said.
“Everyone is entitled to their own opinion but it's how you give those opinions.
"”Quite a few people have complained about hate incidents in workplaces. The aim is to make employers aware of incidents, and that it’s not just banter.”
He added: “Part of my role is to go out and engage with communities. I want them to tell me what they understand about hate crime. If they don’t report it, why don’t they report it?”
PC Nicholson said increasing numbers of people were realising that they had been victims of hate crimes when before they would have dismissed incidents as banter or just something they had to tolerate.
A hate crime is one motivated by prejudice or hostility against people because of their race, religion or belief, disability, sexual orientation and transgender identity, some forces also incorporating misogyny and being picked on because a person is part of a sub-group — such as Goths — within the definition.
Crimes don’t just involve physical violence but also verbal abuse, offensive social media comments, arson, graffiti, damage to property, and discriminatory behaviour.
PC Nicholson said: “If you speak to most people, they don’t fully understand what hate crime is.”
He said that most people saw hate crime as racism towards specific groups, such as Muslims, but the reality was much wider.
The officer, who is based at Rotherham’s Main Street police station, said: “We are quite keen to record hate incidents to get a much bigger picture of what’s happening in the community then, as a police service, we can try and deal with the issues.”
PC Nicholson spends much of his time with groups representing different communities within the borough, ranging from refugees to Asian women to lesbian and gay people, and tries to spread the anti-hate message in schools and other locations. He believes it is reaping rewards.
For some groups, such as refugees, he had to show them that the police in Britain were more friendly than those in the countries they have fled.
PC Nicholson said: “I have been to groups where many people’s only contact with a police officer was at the end of a big stick.”
Young people were generally more tolerant to differences than older generations might be, PC Nicholson said, adding: “Kids are the next generation and if we can change young people’s perceptions then things are going to get better.”
Operation Solar encourages anyone experiencing hate crime or being aware of incidents to email email@example.com.
This allows them to report incidents directly without going down a more formal route.
The service was set up a year ago and PC Nicholson said it had proved popular.
He monitors each message and passes on information to colleagues.
Mr Nicholson said he was optimistic the approach to hate crime could be a sign of Rotherham working positively together.
He said: “Obviously Rotherham has its own particular problems which have been highlighted over the last few years and this has a knock-on effect.
“There are a lot of negative things that have happened in Rotherham and it’s time to turn that on its head and show Rotherham is a good place.
“When communities come together, good things happen.”
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