Police Ombudsman's office and Policing Board publish research on promoting the rights of people with learning disabilities

Wed 24 Aug 2011

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The Police Ombudsman’s Office and the Northern Ireland Policing Board have today (Wednesday 24 August) published a report aimed at helping to promote the rights of one of the most vulnerable groups in local society - people with learning disabilities.

The report is the outcome of a major research project co-funded by the Police Ombudsman’s Office and the Policing Board into the issues faced by people with learning disabilities when dealing with the police and policing organisations.

Almost 300 people with learning disabilities, along with key workers and organisations in the learning disability sector, and representatives of the police, policing organisations and criminal justice bodies were consulted during the project.

The study found that people with learning disabilities had largely positive views and experiences of the police.

But it also found that many instances of bullying and harassment of people with learning disabilities were likely to go unreported because the victims did not realise that they had been a victim of crime, or were unwilling to report it.

The report makes a total of 24 recommendations to help ensure that the police and policing organisations respond appropriately to the needs of people with learning disabilities, and also to help combat disability hate crime.

Police Ombudsman Al Hutchinson said: “Many people with learning difficulties suffer bullying and harassment, but all too often they suffer in silence.

“This report is about helping to ensure that disability hate crime is reported and that the best procedures are in place for combating it. It’s also about ensuring that people with learning disabilities are treated at all times with dignity, fairness, equality and respect.”

Conall McDevitt, Chair of the Policing Board’s Human Rights and Professional Standards Committee said: “It is welcome that people with learning disabilities had largely positive views and experiences of the police but there are a number of issues within policing and the wider criminal justice system that must be improved. People with learning disabilities have the same right to justice and great policing as anyone else. However it is important that the PSNI and other criminal justice agencies plan to ensure that right is fully upheld. As a Board we want to ensure that policing is accessible to everyone in our community and delivers a good service. The findings from this Report will help us do that.”

Donal McDade, of Social Market Research Limited, which conducted the research project, stated: “This landmark piece of research provides a window into how those with learning disabilities interact with policing arrangements in Northern Ireland. Social Market Research (SMR) is privileged to have been involved in the study, and I hope this research evidence will help support police and criminal justice organisations to better understand the challenges that people with learning disability face, as well as to make their services more responsive to the needs of this vulnerable group.”

Maureen Piggot, the Director of Mencap in Northern Ireland, commented "Mencap commends the Policing Ombudsman's Office and NI Policing Board for commissioning this important research. It is by listening to the views and experiences of people with a learning disability that we can find out what changes are needed if the policing and criminal justice agencies are to deliver equal access to justice for all. We urge that the recommendations of the report are implemented as a matter of urgency so that people with a learning disability can access the extra support they need to enjoy the same rights as others in our society".

Chief Superintendent Peter Farrar, Deputy Head of the PSNI’s Criminal Justice Department, added:

“We welcome the publication of today’s report. We will look at recommendations made within it and examine how we can implement these throughout the Police Service. The Police Service is fully committed to working with all people across Northern Ireland as part of our delivery of a more personal, professional, protective policing service to everyone in our communities. This is a positive report for policing and demonstrates how we promote engagement with people with learning disabilities.”

NOTES FOR EDITORS:

The full report “Views and Experiences of People with Learning Disabilities in Relation to Policing Arrangements in Northern Ireland”, along with an Easy Read version of the document, is available at www.policeombudsman.org and also at www.nipolicingboard.co.uk

The research included face-to-face interviews with people with learning disabilities, as well as key workers and organisations from the learning disability sector, and representatives of the police and policing and criminal justice organisations. Researchers also surveyed the opinions of 240 people with learning disabilities, from across Northern Ireland.

The research suggested that people with learning disabilities had generally positive opinions of police. 77% of those who had contacted police because they had been victimised reported that they were satisfied with the police response.

The report also found very low levels of awareness among people with a learning disability of policing organisations such as the Police Ombudsman’s Office, the Policing Board and District Policing Partnerships.

The report makes a total of 24 recommendations, including:

· training in learning disability awareness for police officers and staff within the criminal justice system

· use of a standardised checklist to help staff in policing organisations identify learning disability

· the provision of easy read literature

· measures to increase awareness that bullying and harassment of people with learning disabilities is a hate crime, among people with a learning disability and their families, carers and social care personnel

· measures to increase awareness among people with a learning disability about how to report and protect themselves against crime, particularly bullying and harassment

· the sharing of information about the needs of people with learning disabilities between policing organisations, other statutory bodies and community and voluntary agencies

· measures to improve awareness of policing organisations such as the Police Ombudsman’s Office, the Policing Board, and the District Policing Partnerships, and of how to make a complaint against police.