Tackling hate crime head on

Tackling hate crime head on

A university academic is using his 20 years of research on hate crime to help shape Coventry City Council’s response to a growing problem.

Kusminder Chahal, a research associate at Coventry University’s Centre for Trust, Peace and Social Relations, is working with the council to write its hate crime strategy and action plan.

It’s the very document that will define how the authority and its partners act to reduce and challenge this growing problem of crimes motivated by prejudice. It will influence how the council supports hate crime victims too.

Coventry’s not a hate crime hot spot by any means, but just as in the rest of the country and world, people are being targeted because of their race, disability, sexual orientation, gender and religion. There were 486 hate crimes recorded in Coventry in 2016/2017, an increase of 27% since 2014/15.

“Hate crime can be a difficult thing to understand,” says Kusminder. “To an ordinary person it’s just two words on a poster. But it has consequences. We need to do the hard work to explain it to people, making sure they know how to report it and that they get the most appropriate support if they are a victim of it.”

Kusminder’s expertise has been much in demand over the past few years. He was part of a group of experts who developed guidelines to improve hate crime victim support across Europe.

He has also worked with the FBI to brief USA law enforcement officers on hate crime, as well as with Brent Council and the Royal Borough of Greenwich in London to research and develop and develop information that supports victims of hate crime.   

It was a seminar organised as a reaction to the rise in hate crime after the 2016 EU referendum that first connected Kusminder with leading officers at Coventry City Council.

“There’s a gap in knowledge in many local authorities,” he says. “Many people with the right knowledge have been lost after years of cuts and austerity. It’s a really tough ask for councils with so few resources in recent years’ to do something about this. But the university has lots of expertise and we want them to make use of that.”

Kusminder has worked with the council, police and other partners to help put together the authority’s draft hate crime strategy.

The strategy is due to go out for a public consultation this summer, before hopefully being ratified by councillors in the autumn.

“We want as many people to comment on it as possible. It’s a living, working document,” he says. “The really obvious thing within it is that we have to raise awareness and get deeper into local communities, whether we are going into mosques or disability organisations. We have to increase confidence in potential and actual victims to report or at least tell someone.

Kusminder says it is important professionals know how to deal with victims sensitively and are clear about where to direct them for further help and support.

He says collecting information on hate crime incidents is vital to build a thorough picture of how it is effecting people is vital.

“We have to understand what is happening, how and to whom and what new resources and responses we have to develop. This is not some paper policy and strategy, that will never become an actionable document. We are getting this done. It is happening. It will make a difference.”

For more information on Coventry University’s research, visit www.coventry.ac.uk/research.