Crackdown on crimes against people with learning difficulties
'HATE AND MATE' crime is being fought by police across South Devon.
It targets offenders who hit on vulnerable people with learning difficulties by pretending to befriend them, and then bullying and exploiting them either physically, financially or sexually.
Now newly-trained officers across South Devon are asking the public to report any sightings or suspicions of crimes against people with learning difficulties.
It is estimated that in Torbay alone there are 585 people with a learning disability who may have been a victim of unreported hate crime.
National statistics suggest nine out of 10 people with a learning disability have experienced bullying or harassment in the last year.
Only a few of these are reported.
Sgt Ryan Doyle, in charge of training 300 officers locally, said: "The police have been criticised quite rightly for not doing enough to help.
"There are those who think it's quite fun to call names or make life difficult but to the victim it is often far worse than a bit of name-calling.
"It can have a really serious, negative impact.
"If you see it happening tell us. We now accept third-party reports. In the past you could only report if you were the victim.
"If you are sitting on a bus and see people harassing someone, ring 101 or 999 if it is urgent."
The police project — called Action Learning for Change — is the first of its kind in England.
The aim is to halt the low recognition and recording of disability hate crime, bullying and harassment in South Devon.
Police are working with Eat that Frog, a community interest organisation based in Torquay Road, Paignton.
More than 300 frontline officers are being trained to understand 'hate and mate' crime on a person with a learning disability and are made aware of the challenges and barriers to reporting.
Supt Jim Nye, police commander for South Devon, is responding to startling findings in the 'Hidden In Plain Sight' report which revealed significant under-reporting of crimes and incidents affecting people with a learning disability.
He said: "Our aim is to work closely with people in the learning-disabled community so they feel comfortable in reporting crimes that happen against them."
Police training is already under way with the local learning-disability community, who give real examples of crimes that have been committed including so-called 'hate and mate crimes', which includes bullying by friends.