On 15 November, we mark the anniversary of the election of England's first Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs) - members of the public elected to oversee local policing and hold Chief Constables to account. A vital part of our human rights safety net, the police have significant potential to protect or harm our rights to justice, equality and fairness, whether we are the victim of crime or accused of a crime. One year on, we asked PCCs to tell us what they have done to protect human rights for everyone.
The small number of PCCs who responded to our questions stressed how important human rights are to their work, and that they see them as part of everyday policing. Encouragingly, they linked the protection of human rights to equality and justice - values that we all share.
Tony Hogg, PCC for Devon and Cornwall highlighted the campaign he led on domestic violence. He is working to protect funding for rape crisis centres.
Gloucestershire PCC Martin Surl is actually funding the county's rape crisis centres from his PCC's own resources, and is leading a campaign to increase the awareness of sexual violence amongst young people.
Martyn Underhill, PCC for Dorset, has written about people with mental health problems ending up in police cells and chaired the first meeting of the national PCC Mental Health Working Group, where PCCs and representatives from other key partner agencies discuss some of the key concerns relating to mental health and policing.
Welcome as these responses are, unfortunately too many people's human rights are still not fully protected by the police and criminal justice system. Just some examples include:
People with mental health problems are up to ten times more likely to become victims of crime than the general population and are far less likely to be satisfied with their treatment by police. Paul Farmer, Chief Executive of Mind, stressed that "People with mental health problems have an equal right to justice, yet this research reveals that this is not the reality for far too many of us. It is unacceptable that the police...and others who are supposed to support victims of crime may be dismissive of or not believe a person's experience, or may even blame them for the crime."
If you are black you are seven times more likely to be stopped and searched than your white peers, even though a 9% arrest rate following stop and search shows how ineffective it is. Runnymede Trust found that 65% of Black African people they talked to were worried about being the victims of crime and a third of Black Caribbean respondents felt the police discriminated against them.
Children and young people are particularly vulnerable when they interact with the police. The Children's Rights Alliance England reports annually on the UKs progress against UN measures of children's rights. Every year, children's negative experience of the police, the criminalisation of children's behaviour and the need for specialist training of police who interact with children are identified as areas for major improvement.
Attacks on people with disabilities continue to be under-reported and under-prosecuted. 47% of people with learning difficulties have been frightened or attacked due to their disability and people with a disability are four times more likely to be attacked then the population as a whole.
Statistics on sexual offending confirm continued high levels of sexual violence, crimes committed by men against women and girls. Most survivors still do not report the matter to the police and very few cases that are reported result in conviction.
Clearly there is still much to do to make everyone's rights real in practice, when it comes to policing and crime. Practical suggestions for PCCs from charities working on the issues at stake include:
• Increase third party reporting sites which allow people with disabilities to report being a victim of crime to a trained disabled person who has expertise in taking statements which can lead to convictions.
• Ensure that the views of people with mental health problems are taken into account in developing policing policy and practice. Join the national debate on how to improve the experience of people with mental health problems when they interact with the police.
• Understand the experience of stop and search for the people in your region and ensure that use of this power is intelligence-led and leads to meaningful reduction in crime, not alienation of communities.
• Enact an immediate increase in police training on all areas of child welfare including child development; mental health; neuro disabilities; speech, language and learning needs; safeguarding and interviewing young people. This training should include information on children's rights.
• Work with local women's groups to prioritise women's safety and fund local rape crisis provision, domestic violence projects and support for ethnic minority women.
As they move into their second year in office, we hope that PCCs will take up the challenge of making human rights a reality for everyone in their communities.