Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Conference with GMPCC

Yesterday afternoon, I attended the Meeting the needs of blind and visually impaired people half-day conference, set up by the Greater Manchester Police Crime Commissioner, Tony Lloyd, and his engagement team, at the GMP Conference Suite in Sedgely Park. The conference was a follow-up to my initial meeting with the GMPCC engagement team about my experiences with hate crime and the responses I had gathered through surveys at the Henshaws resource centre in Manchester.

The aim of the conference was to give visually impaired and blind people the opportunity to share experiences, concerns, praise and recommendations for improvement in relation to the services they receive from Greater Manchester Police.

Among the attendees were representatives from the Manchester Guide Dogs team, the Salford Sensory Team, Manchester Blind Football Club, and the RNIB Regional Campaigns Officer for the North West, as well as blind and visually impaired people local to the Manchester area who wanted to share their views and experiences.

The event was live-tweeted by Kate. You can view the tweets and photos at the official GMPCC Twitter account and by browsing the hashtag #gmpccdisability. I also live-tweeted and typed out notes on my iPad to use for this blog post.

After registration and refreshments, the event began with an introduction from Uzma Babb, engagement manager of the PCC engagement team, about the conference and its aims for the day, the agenda, housekeeping rules and fire safety instructions.

The agenda of the day was to have table-top discussions regarding accessibility of GMP and communication, current reporting mechanisms, reporting hate crime, crime prevention and keeping safe. Engagement officers were based at each table taking notes of experiences and suggestions to then be fed back to the Crime Commissioner and the engagement team.

Tony Lloyd, the Police Crime Commissioner for Greater Manchester, introduced himself and welcomed the attendees to the conference. He thanked us for coming along to the event and for sharing experiences and feedback to help shape accessibility and the reporting of hate crime.

“It’s quite right that our police service should serve all members of our community, including those with alternative communication needs. If that means finding ways to improve access to the police – whether at police stations themselves, when providing crime prevention advice, or when using the 101 non-emergency number, then these are things GMP need to look at.

We are all on a journey, here, not just the police but all services. We all need to work harder to find ways to remove the – often unnecessary – barriers faced by people with disabilities in our community.”

He ended his speech by saying that this was not a conclusion on meeting the needs of blind and visually impaired people in Greater Manchester, but just the beginning.

We then began our table-top discussions. We introduced ourselves around the table which included myself, Lindsay Armstrong - the RCO of the North West, Joanne Potter who has worked with Action for Blind People, and Ruth, Sue and Stan from the committee of the Manchester Blind Football Club. Gaynor Edwards was the member of the engagement team who was sat with us taking notes of suggestions, experiences and feedback.

First on the agenda was discussion of accessibility of GMP and communication. Gaynor informed us of all the ways in which the police can be contacted - via 999 for emergency calls, 101 for non-emergency calls,  Facebook and Twitter, the official websites for GMPCC and Greater Manchester Police, using the 'click to talk' button and accessing your local police station or police officer. Reports should be made through the website using the contact form, rather than though social media. There is also a newsletter than can be sent via e-mail to keep up-to-date with current news and events.

The GMPCC and Greater Manchester Police websites are accessible and have a SpeakIT Plus application installed through the 'listen to site' link located on the top left-hand side, which will read out the text and links on the website, if you are not already using speech-based software on your computer. There are settings to control the speed of the speech and information on how to change the text size on your computer's browser to make it larger on the website.

Moving onto the accessibility of information, some items such as leaflets are provided in large print but not every article is. If you were to request a leaflet or letter in Braille or large print, it would be provided in your preferred format - you just have to ask. I wasn't aware of this, and assumed that most information leaflets and forms would only be available in regular-sized print, so this is very useful to remember in future. The police can also be contacted over the phone for information if an audio format is preferred.

We gave our feedback on the accessibility of communicating with police, which included more home visits from community police - with tactile identification, and making people more aware that they can connect with police through social media, report online using the website, and request large print and Braille formats.

Before moving onto the next item on the agenda, I was kindly asked by Kate to pose for a picture to be posted on the GMPCC Twitter account!

Next on the agenda was looking at current reporting mechanisms, some of which had been explained previously in the first discussion. These are currently through the 999 emergency number, 101 non-emergency number (which has replaced the previous 5050 number), through Crime Stoppers, reporting to a police officer in person, in a station and through the GMP website using the contact form.

One person at our table was unaware of the 101 number so we had some further discussion into the change; it is a nationwide number, but it is not freephone. We also discussed police stations themselves and whether they are accessible enough for a blind or VI person - in which case, picking up the phone is more convenient for the majority of people, and a lot of the other contact methods are well covered by the police.

After a 10 minute break, we resumed our table-top discussions moving onto the next item on the agenda - reporting hate crime. Gaynor explained the difference between a hate crime and a hate incident: The Home Office defines a hate crime as any incident, which constitutes as a criminal offence, perceived by the victim or any other person, as being motivated by prejudice or hate. A hate incident has a similar definition but may or may not constitute as a criminal offence. The reporting of hate crime can be achieved by dialling the 101 non-emergency number, at the front desk of a police station, via a police officer, online using the contact form on the website or through a third party reporting centre.

Hate crimes and incidents are targeted at a person because of hostility or prejudice towards that person's disability, race or ethnicity, religion or belief, sexual orientation, transgender identity, and / or sub-culture identity. They can be committed either against a person or a property. A victim does not have to be a member of the group at which the hostility is targeted; they may simply be perceived to be a member of that group. Hate crimes can come in different forms such as physical attacks, threats of attack, verbal abuse, written or printed abuse, sexual abuse, graffiti and / or harassment.

We were then invited to share our experiences of hate crime and whether we reported it, and if not, what were the barriers that were stopping us from doing so. I shared my story of being a victim of hate crime 7 years ago and my reasons as to why I did not report it at the time. I felt like the attack was my fault, was too scared to speak out and didn't think I would be a valuable witness as I could not see the perpetrator with my severe sight loss. It caused serious depression and anxiety attacks, and I was mostly housebound for the 6 years to follow. Others around the table shared their accounts of their friends and family, and I shared my findings from my surveys of the hate crime experienced by some of the service users at Henshaws.

We talked more about third party reporting centres and which ones were local to us. A third party reporting centre is an independent, non-police centre that allows you to report incidents in complete confidence in an environment that you are more comfortable in - such as a religious building, school, college, housing trust or community centre. I believe that Henshaws is in the process of becoming a third party reporting centre too which is fantastic news!

The final item on the agenda for discussion was crime prevention and keeping safe. We each discussed individually how prevented becoming victims of crime - being members of our local home watch / neighbourhood watch groups, installing house alarms and shed alarms, carrying panic buttons, having locks on windows and doors and stickers on windows. I mentioned that I kept up-to-date with the GMPCC and Greater Manchester social media websites and received the newsletter via e-mail to keep as up-to-date as possible.

We also provided insight into how we kept safe - hardly ever going out at night, limiting the use of public transport at night, only visiting areas with good lighting, going to familiar well-known areas, hardly ever going to new places, avoiding dark side-streets and avoiding places where incidents have happened to other people. Gaynor informed us of how the police currently help others to prevent crime and keep safe - such as giving prevention advice, hi-vis patrolling and cocooning, and through social media and the official website.

The suggestions given from the table and through the surveys I had conducted wanted a greater police presence in local communities, officers to make themselves known to VI and blind members of the community, house visits every so often to be aware of what's happening in the local area and more police observation on transport (though this involves the British Transport Police and not GMP).

It was then time to wrap up the conference for the day. Uzma thanked us all for attending the event and echoed what Tony Lloyd had said earlier about this just being the start of things to come, rather than a conclusion.

I want to say a big thank you to the Police Crime Commissioner, Tony Lloyd, and the engagement team for organising the conference in response to my initial meeting with them. It was a fantastic event, extremely informative and I am very grateful that they took the time to time to organise it on my behalf. I also want to thank those who attended for making it such a success!

You can read more about yesterday's conference by clicking here and here. You can take part online to give your views and feedback regarding hate crime and GMP accessibility by filling out the short survey here - you can remain anonymous and it is optional to give your contact details.

The survey and poll available at the GMPCC website will remain live for the next fortnight, and then all of the responses will be collated and a report will be produced detailing the findings and suggestions for improvement.