Bedfordshire Police has highlighted a rise in hate crime amidst Brexit and the coronavirus pandemic as it urges victims of hate crimes to continue to come forward.
As part of Hate Crime Awareness Week the force has raised the particular situation facing those who are blind or visually impaired, who have reported an increase in harassment or accusations they are not following social distancing.
George Hogman from Sight Concern Bedfordshire said there had been a noticeable shift in people’s attitude during the pandemic.
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He said: “My guide dog has not been trained to socially distance and has got me told off by some members of the public, because he will stop behind someone in a queue for the till.
"He will not queue outside a shop and is trained to get me to the door and inside the building.
“There are dangers and issues seemingly at every turn, with people asking shop assistants to get the dog out of the shop, people getting on the bus and asking the driver to get the dog off the bus, or the difficulties of trying to use a taxi.
“This all happened before lockdown but has somehow got worse. I am not sure if people have become a little more frustrated or short-tempered during lockdown, but it is noticeable for sure.”
Reports of hate crimes are increasing year on year as more victims have the confidence to come forward.
Sergeant Carl Perri, from Bedfordshire Police’s Hate Crime team, said: “Hate crime is affected by news articles, politics, social media and international events and sudden spikes can be seen in short periods of time.
“As a police service nationally, this year has seen unique challenges with divided opinion and changing community dynamics on subjects such as Brexit and Covid-19.
“When sections of the community feel strongly on topics such as these, social action, protest and community tension can result. This in turn can cause some people to become polarised and subject of hostility or fear future hostility.
“No one should ever have to feel afraid because of who they are, how they look or what they believe in.
"Our job is to investigate such incidents and provide victims with confidence and reassurance, which me and my team work tirelessly to do.”
This year Bedfordshire Police has implemented new processes to improve the service and support for hate crime victims.
Mandatory hate crime risk assessments are now completed at attendance or at appointment with victims to ensure all the information is recorded.
High risk or repeating cases can also now be referred to a countywide Hate Crime Risk Management Group for a partnership, problem solving approach.
If you want to report a hate crime you can contact police via www.bedfordshire.police.uk/report.
There are a number of third party reporting centres as well, where people may feel more comfortable reporting hate crime incidents. A full list of these is available on the Bedfordshire Police website.