Christa Ackroyd: Why we need to understand what constitutes hate crime

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When my dad was a bobby on the beat in Bradford in the 1950s he was armed against crime with a whistle, a note book and a truncheon.

His mode of transport was a bicycle which he used to travel between police boxes which he would then unlock to either phone in or receive details of crimes committed.

Police forces were small. Old lags and their haunts were known to coppers who spent all their working lives patrolling the same streets and the Chief Constable knew every one of his officers by name.

Three policemen lived on my street so as kids we got away with nothing.

We had respect for the law and for those charged with upholding it. Bring back Dixon of Dock Green, eh?

Well George Dixon would not recognise policing today. Neither would my dad.

Today’s challenges are a far cry from the time when it was also their job to rattle the factory gates to make sure they were locked. Now its’s all about targets which see at least half of crime screened out and much worse, it’s about politics.

This last week has seen debate about which type of crimes we can afford to investigate and which can be ignored. At the centre of the storm are two no nonsense female police chiefs who let’s face it would be more likely to be making the tea or doing the filing in my dad’s early days rather than running a force, so that’s one major step forward, at least.

The debate seems to centre on hate crime or rather what constitutes hate crime. And I don’t understand. Why the need to break down crime into categories? Surely the solving of crime needs to focus on solving the most serious first, if we accept and I think we must accept it, our police forces are stretched.

Last week it was revealed an elderly woman peeped her horn at a motorist on a petrol station forecourt because she thought the customer at the pump in front of her was dilly dallying. Apparently the customer ran into the petrol station claiming she was the victim of hate crime because she was Afro Caribbean. The old woman, was interviewed under caution and the ‘crime’ was recorded as hate crime.

On Bonfire Night a video went viral of a group setting fire to a model of Grenfell Towers complete with burning victims made out of brown paper and laughing as they fell into the flames. Five are being questioned so I can’t comment further.

I can comment on another incident when at least eight people posed in Ku Klux Klan costumes outside an Islamic prayer centre in Belfast. Sickening. They need rounding up and arresting too. Now that really is hate crime.

There is now a call for ‘misogyny’ to be added to the list. The definition of misogyny includes violence against women. Quite clearly illegal. It also includes wolf whistling. Try telling the young girl groomed and abused by a gang of men that being whistled at in the streets made the ‘victim’ feel vulnerable and abused. The world,my friends, has gone mad.

Policing is not about choosing which crimes are in and which are out. It’s about getting your priorities right.

Of course burglaries should be investigated. But there are burglaries and burglaries. If I have my lawn mower stolen give me a crime number and let the insurance company sort it out. Concentrate instead on the old lady who feels threatened, violated and downright terrified to know a scumbag has broken into her home.

When my Dad retired after 30 years service, police pay doubled in the few years that followed. I asked him if he had left too soon. His reply was it was not the job he had joined to do. Well he would have found it unrecognisable today. And in many ways that’s good. Technological advances include computerisation and DNA. But crime is five times the problem. And a thousand times more complex. Cyber crime hadn’t even been invented.

But I know if my Dad were alive he would say the thin blue line is now too thin, that the loss of 7,000 bobbies on the beat is forgetting the basics. And that policing is not just about solving crime it is also about making the most vulnerable in society feel safe. It certainly isn’t about wasting time debating which boxes to tick and which crime fits each box. We may have lost the days of old fashioned coppering forever. We have certainly lost a lot of common sense along the way.