The London Police force has been given approval to establish a new unit designed specifically to target the perpetrators of online hate crimes.
The BBC reports that the new team will consist of five officers. The Home Office is to contribute 452,000 of the two-year pilot's 1.7m cost. Essentially the unit will identify the location of online offenders and then alert the appropriate regional forces.
Consultation during the development of the MOPAC Hate Crime Reduction Strategy for London identified the increasing role that online hate played in targeting individuals and communities,” The Mayor's Office for Policing And Crime said. Social media provides hate crime perpetrators with a veil of anonymity, making it harder to bring them to justice and potentially impacting on a larger number of people.
Those targeted can become isolated, living in fear of the online behaviour materialising in the real world. The police response to online hate crime is inconsistent, primarily because police officers are not equipped to tackle it. The purpose of this programme is to strengthen the police and community response to this growing crime type.
[The programme will] improve the police response, capability and intelligence to facilitate counter measures that can reduce and prevent further criminal activity and victimisation; ensure victims are effectively identified and receive timely support; and build community capacity to respond collectively to online hate.”
The scheme also hopes to strengthen ties between police and social media providers and, ultimately, bring more offenders to justice.
The importance of cyber, or online crime, is recognised by police and government,” MOPAC added. Digital Policing is one of the four pillars of police reform under consideration by the Police Reform and Transformation Board.
While the majority of online crime is business or finance based (fraud, scams etc.) and has prompted a robust response in the form of initiatives such as the National Cyber Security Centre, the rise of social media has had a dramatic effect on the way in which people interact online, providing new avenues for crime, and in particular hate crime. This plays out in the experiences of victims who by definition have one or more of the five protected characteristics identified as motivations for hate crime; race, faith, sexual orientation, disability and transgender status.
Hate crime victims have higher levels of depression, stress and anger, and for longer than victims of other types of crime Victims report that the simplest elements of daily life can be affected, such as which streets they walk down, how they answer the phone, reactions to strangers, and suspicion of co-workers.”