The Metropolitan Police Service's recent announcement to create a new online hate crime hub to improve their response to online hate crime is an important step in tackling one of the most prevalent forms of hate crime.
The move signals that we are finally beginning to adapt to the new avenues of crime presented through the onset of social media.
Last year I wrote a document titled #ReportHate: Combating Online Hatred. My research found that 4 out of 5 victims of online hate crime don't report it to the police.
Because of failings in the system I proposed the creation of a new specialist hate crime unit to help simplify and improve the police's response to reported online hate crime.
I am delighted that following a London Assembly meeting in June, where I convinced Mayor Sadiq Khan to read our report on the matter, the Mayor's Office for Policing and Crime have decided to adopt our principle recommendation from the report.
In addition, I am particularly pleased to note that the unit will adopt the structure we recommended in our report.
It is our view that while our police officers are well trained to deal with most offences, when it comes to online hate crime, specialist knowledge is needed.
Currently, it is left to the borough police officers, who already have very large caseloads to deal with, to investigate online hate crimes.
Given the complexity involved in identifying the location of the perpetrator and determining which specific piece of legislation had or had not been violated, laying all of this work at the feet of borough police officers was bound to lead to a disjointed and inconsistent response to a growingly significant crime.
I firmly believe that through the creation of this unit, we will dramatically improve the capacity of local police forces across London to be able to successfully investigate reports of online hate crime.
However, protocols regarding how the unit should operate need to be clearly communicated to avoid any potential pitfalls.
For example, the new unit must not adopt an approach where officers end up proactively trawling the internet to look for hate crime offences.
Given that a large proportion of all hate crime offences occur online, the unit would quickly become inundated with reports. This will lead to an inefficient response to a crime that has the capacity to alienate entire communities.
If we want the unit to be a success, its primary role must be to act as a first-responder to online hate crime offences. This means that they should receive reports from the public, investigate them and develop intelligence packages to be sent to the relevant local police force to action.
With the ever-changing dynamics of social media and the increasing role it plays in our lives, online hate crime is an issue that is only going to become more prevalent. Through the creation of this unit, the Metropolitan Police Service has proven that they are serious about leading the way in addressing it properly.
Andrew Boff is a London Wide Conservatives Assembly Member, and Chair of the London Assembly Housing Committee.