November 24, 2008

At the recent Social Inclusion Network meeting, Constable Jim Scotson, the Hate Crime Officer for Merseyside Police based St. Helens, described the work of the Hate Crimes Unit, which is locally known as the ‘Sigma' unit. <--break->The title of Sigma was carefully chosen. Sigma is a letter from the Greek alphabet and symbolises the work of the unit in recognizing and protecting all vulnerable members of our society whilst seeking to continuously improve the service the police provide to victims.

The Sigma team help people who are experiencing harassment for any reason.

We heard about the support they give to people who are experiencing hate crimes and the help they are given to take crimes through to court.

Jim described Sigma's flexible and understanding approach. For example, they understand that some people don't necessarily want a uniformed officer knocking at their door to take a report of an incident. This may be because they'd prefer to keep some things hidden from their neighbours. Sigma will make arrangements to visit at the best time of day and in casual clothes.

It was great to hear that they include victims of hate crimes because of mental ill health. We know that many service users and carers are wary of the Police because of their involvement when it comes to the Mental Health Act. If the Police have had to be involved, then it is natural for families to be less keen to call them when they themselves are facing any crime. There is also that worry about whether to call the Police - we blame the harrassment on ourselves, our paranoia and heightened sensitivities when actually it is beyond that and we are actually victims of criminal behaviour.

Jim has regularly attended the Forum and is a familiar face to many of our members. But he is just one policeman amongst many.

We came to a very quick agreement that there is some way we can work together to build confidence and awareness between the police and people who have experienced distress. So we intend to meet regularly, and look at ways to bring service users and police together.

We took up time to change's offer to write a blog about the project for several reasons. Firstly it'll keep us on track! And also we'd like to hear about other projects around the country. What is happening in your region to raise awareness with the Police around the discrimination faced by people experiencing distress? Please feedback your comments and share your experiences.

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