Victoria Police has launched its first-ever strategy to combat prejudice-motivated crime (PMC). The strategy — to train police to better respond to hate-motivated crime — has been welcomed by the Victorian Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (VEOHRC) and the gay and lesbian Anti-Violence Project Victoria (AVP).
AVP board member Jayne Monroe said the move is encouraging.
“AVP is breaking down barriers to the reporting of prejudice-motivated crime and this strategy moves the bar another step in a positive direction,” she said.
At the Melbourne Town Hall launch, Victorian Human Rights commissioner Dr Helen Szoke welcomed the strategy.
“We know this is a really challenging area because prejudice-motivated crimes are sometimes excused as opportunistic [but] most people who experience them are in no doubt that what’s happened to them is because of some particular attribute,” Szoke said.
“We know that to effectively address PMC, community members need to feel confident and supported and that’s most important.”
Szoke said in a recent online VEOHRC survey of 80 people, more than half said they did not report prejudice-motivated incidents of violence or harassment, including a transgender person who was reportedly called a “wannabe woman” in a pub and punched in the face.
Victoria Police acting Assistant Commissioner Tracy Linford said the stratgey’s main aim is to educate police, improve reporting and encourage victims to come forward.
“Until now Victoria Police hasn’t really had a strategy to deal with prejudice-motivated crime. Our systems and our processes have let us down, so we haven’t been able to capture the extent of it,” Linford said. “Our lack of understanding by our members about what actually constitutes PMC has inhibited our ability to deal with it effectively.
“This in turn has affected the community’s confidence actually reporting PMC to us.”
Linford said from July new police recruits woud be trained in how to deal with suspected hate crimes. Current police, senior managers and police prosecutors will also receive training, and police data collection methods will be improved.
Acting Police Chief Commissioner Ken Lay said “everyone deserves … to feel safe.”
The strategy follows the amendment of Victorian sentencing laws in 2009, requiring judges to take into account crime motivated by hate or prejudice when handing down a sentence.