A STRATEGY to combat hate crimes is being overhauled to prevent offences escalating amid a dramatic increase in ethnic minorities in one of Britain’s fastest growing cities.
The decision has been taken to review the strategy due to the rapidly changing demographics in York in the hope of preventing mounting racial tensions in the city.
The first document was launched by York Council in January 2008, but the city has witnessed a massive population boom in the intervening four years.
The strategy has been heralded as a success as it has helped reduce the number of reports of hate crimes, although there are concerns that problems could intensify unless a more proactive approach is taken to forge closer links with ethnic minorities.
There are also fears that many hate crimes are going unreported, with both police and council officials acknowledging a significant number of offences do not come to the attention of the authorities.
While other groups including the lesbian, gay and bisexual community, the disabled and different religious faiths have all been victims of hate crimes in York, the greatest number of offences has been linked to race.
One of the key aims of the overhaul is to improve the quality of data captured by fostering relationships with community groups and ensuring victims know the process for reporting hate crimes.
York Council’s cabinet member for leisure, culture and tourism, Coun Sonja Crisp, said: “There is always the chance that problems could increase, but the hope is that there will be more acceptance amid a growing black and ethnic minorities population in York. There will always be people who have strong views about race, and we have to take a strong stance to tackle any problems.
“Things are changing at such a fast pace and we need to get it right. We have decided that we need to be proactive, and that is why we are looking at the strategy.
“We have to build confidence among the black and ethnic communities that the council and other organisations are here to help and support them.”
Data from North Yorkshire Police has shown that there were 121 reported hate crimes in York during the last financial year, with 99 of the offences being racially motivated. The figure is significantly lower than the 164 hate crimes which were reported in 2008/09 when the strategy was first launched.
But York has traditionally been seen as a white, middle-class city, and the sudden surge in ethnic minorities living in the city has led to fears the rapid demographic changes could lead to tensions between existing communities and the new arrivals.
York is the second fastest growing location nationally and ranks behind only Milton Keynes. Its population has increased by nine per cent since 2001 and now stands at 202,000.
The £750m expansion of York University has been attributed in part to the rising numbers of ethnic minorities, although the city has attracted many new residents as it remains one of the most desirable locations to live in the country. The city’s ethnic minority population has more than doubled in a decade, and a study in 2010 revealed there were 78 different first languages being spoken in the city.
The hate crime strategy involves a series of organisations working alongside York Council, including North Yorkshire Police, the Probation Service and the primary care trust, NHS North Yorkshire and York.
A draft of the revised strategy will be discussed at a meeting of York Council’s equality advisory group on Monday. It is then due to go before the authority’s cabinet in the autumn.