Police told to avoid 'toxic public debate around hate crime' by senior officer

Chief superintendent Rob Hay warns hate crime is being 'weaponised' and the force is 'woefully under-resourced'.

Police officers told to avoid ‘toxic public debate around hate crime’ at superintendents conference ASPS

Police have been told to avoid “toxic public debate around hate crime” by a senior officer.

Chief superintendent Rob Hay, president of the Association of Scottish Police Superintendents, will warn that policing should not be drawn into the current “toxic public debate around hate crime” in his keynote speech at its conference on Tuesday.

Hay will say officers must not be drawn into ‘”petty point scoring currently filling much of the public debate” and that attempts to “weaponise” hate crime is diverting stretched police resources from those who actually need them.

He will also highlight that Police Scotland is now “woefully under-resourced”, with the lowest officer numbers in 16 years.

The Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Act came into effect on April 1 and more than 7,000 complaints were made online in the first week.

The Act consolidates existing hate crime legislation and creates a new stirring-up offence for some protected characteristics but critics have suggested it could have a chilling effect on free speech.

CS Hay will say: “The divisive, political and toxic nature of some of the debate raging in wider society is not a place policing should ever inhabit.

“The flood of spurious complaints received upon the enactment of the new hate crime legislation is an example of the mischief-making we have seen, undertaken with spiteful glee and diverting police resources from those in actual need.

“So, let us be pacifists in the culture war as we have no interest in investigating Humza Yousaf for describing some white people as being white; nor are we interested in arresting JK Rowling, no matter how much she tweets about it.”

Addressing recent figures showing Police Scotland now has its lowest number of officers in 16 years, Mr Hay will reflect on the Scottish Government’s previous promise to recruit 1,000 extra officers and the difference they made in targeting street gangs and reducing knife crime

He will point out since then the workforce has shrunk to pre-2009 levels – around 16,356 full-time equivalent officers at the end of March – and the lowest since the end of September 2008, according to government figures.

CS Hay will say: “The tale of how Scotland ‘beat’ knife crime is usually told through the lens of the violence reduction unit (VRU). Nobody would deny the pioneering nature of the work the VRU undertook and have championed to this day.

“What is often forgotten, however, is 1,000 additional officers recruited into policing in 2007, all of whom went to frontline community policing. What is forgotten is the unprecedented targeting of active street gangs for proactive enforcement that went side-by-side with preventative interventions.

“What is forgotten is that everyone caught in possession of a knife would appear in custody, where bail would be opposed if they had previous convictions for similar offences. The success achieved was done so by blending progressive, novel approaches with conventional, visible, proactive policing measures.”

The Association of Scottish Police Superintendents Centenary Conference will discuss challenges faced by the forces and how they will be dealt with over the next five years. It will be held at the Peebles Hydro.

Around 100 delegates representing senior roles in Scottish policing will also be present, with representatives from across the wider UK also in attendance.

Speakers at this include leading figures from the Superintendents’ Associations in England, Wales and Northern Ireland and the Scottish Police Federation, and HM Chief Inspector of Constabulary in Scotland Craig Naylor.

The Scottish Government has been contacted for comment.

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