Skip to main content

The Police Service’s Strategic Community Engagement Team (SCET) hosted a Reference, Engagement and Listening (REaL) Event at Newforge in Belfast on 25 April 2024 with stakeholder organisations from across the disability community in Northern Ireland.

The event centred on focus group discussions linked to a number of the pillars contained within the ‘Here for You’ Public Engagement Vision, namely attraction and recruitment, procedural fairness and local accountability. There was a focus on challenges for the disabled community in accessing Police services. 

The organisations in attendance were Autism NI, Compass Advocacy Network, Department for Communities, Cedar Foundation, Centre for Independent Living, Disability Action NI, Limbless Association, Mae Murray Foundation, Mencap, the National Counselling and Psychotherapy Society, North West Forum of People with Disabilities and RNIB.

This summary document is intended to capture some of the important highlights and potential solutions discussed across the focus groups and plenary session. 

Procedural Fairness 

It is vital that all communities are able to access the Police Service. What are the barriers experienced by disabled members of the community in navigating Police services? How could we resolve these?

  • Attendees reported a lack of awareness around ways in which to access Police services within the disability sector and a feeling that individuals are expected to find the information for themselves. Targeted campaigns to raise awareness of the online reporting portal and neighbourhood policing contact page would be beneficial for the community. In addition, there is a lack of understanding around the wider criminal justice system, specifically around pressures causing delays in progressing cases.
  • Police engagement for individuals with a visual impairment was discussed. The Service has been working with the RNIB on a Visual Impairment Protocol with a page now available on the PSNI website outlining a two-pronged approach to providing reassurance to those who have sight loss or any vulnerability.
  • Language barriers were also highlighted, particularly in respect of the deaf community with attendees suggesting that basic sign language awareness amongst Officers and Staff would aid engagement. The PSNI’s website has a specific section for the deaf community.
  • There is a reluctance by some within the disabled community to reach out to Police as they fear they will not be understood. A number of examples were provided around Police lacking awareness of some neurological disorders, such as Huntington’s Disease. Lisburn and Castlereagh District recently engaged with the Huntington’s Disease Association Northern Ireland on the development of information for Officers around the impact of the condition and ways to engage with an individual who is experiencing symptoms.
  • Concerns were highlighted over the current budgetary situation for the PSNI and the impact that this is having on Neighbourhood Policing. Research conducted by the National Police Autism Association was also referred to around access to justice with areas of concern highlighted in relation to initial contact at a police station, reporting a crime, providing a witness interview and being stopped by a uniformed officer. Groups noted the importance of Neighbourhood Policing to developing confidence in policing amongst the autistic community. 
  • Recommendations across the groups emphasised the importance of training for Officers and Staff which will aid engagement, particularly autism focused training. One of the groups referred to learning from research conducted by Naomi Maxwell and Amanda Kramer published in the Policing and Society Journal in February 2024 entitled ‘Forgotten, outdated, and absent: PSNI officer’s training, experiences, and confidence with Autism’. 
  • Initiatives such as the JAM (Just a Minute) card were highlighted as being very helpful for assisting people with a hidden disability or communication barrier to tell others they need extra time and understanding in a private and easy way. The groups recommended extending this scheme to secure wider usage within Police stations, potentially through displaying a visible JAM poster or sticker at enquiry office front desks.

Hate Crime

Disability hate crime remains under-reported in Northern Ireland. What are the challenges to reporting this type of crime and how could the PSNI assist in addressing these and improving confidence within the community?

  • Concerns were highlighted around accurate recording of hate crimes against the disabled community. Discussions took place around vulnerability within the community and the risk of individuals being exploited for serious criminality, including examples of serious sexual offences, organised crime and control through financial exploitation. Crimestoppers, supported by PSNI, the Executive Programme on Paramilitarism and Organised Crime and Advice NI, launched a new campaign on 14 May focusing on financial exploitation and predatory money lending.
  • There was a sense that disabled people are reluctant to raise issues with the police and tend to just “accept things the way they are”. Attendees highlighted that there needs to be a more joined up approach to tackling hate crime with other bodies involved in housing and education as often the solution does not lie solely with policing. One group highlighted the need for better education around what constitutes hate crime with discussions around the role of schools in recognising cases where bullying should be treated as a hate crime/incident.
  • A number of comments were made which link back to the lack of awareness within the disabled community on routes to access Police services, particularly around the online reporting portal. There was a recommendation that a targeted media campaign for the disabled community would be beneficial in improving engagement and hate crime reporting. It was highlighted that it is Learning Disability Week takes place from 17-23 June which may provide an opportunity for Police engagement with the sector.

Attraction and Recruitment 

The PSNI wants to be representative of the community that it serves and is currently under-represented by people with disabilities. How could we develop our workforce to ensure that it is more representative of the communities that we serve? Are there any ways in which in the Service could better engage with the community in order to promote the career options which exist within policing?

  • Feedback indicates that members of the disabled community do not see themselves in Policing as it is not reflective of the community it serves; 4.9 per cent of Police Officers and 7.4 per cent of Police Staff had declared a disability at 31 March 2024. There was a sense that this created a barrier to the disabled community being proactive in applying for roles within the PSNI. 
  • There was a sense that the PSNI needs to be more proactive and targeted in its approach to improving representation. One group highlighted an idea around selecting a small area of Policing, potentially a single department, and setting targets around employment rates of disabled people within that specific area. This could aid longer term objectives and involve tangible change being realised within a shorter period of time.
  • Suggestions were also made around providing opportunities around employment experiences within the organisation. This could involve assisting disabled people to attend and experience a role prior to applying for it which would help to aid attraction and recruitment from across the disability sector.
  • Finally, there was a lack of awareness of Police Staff roles within the PSNI with attendees suggesting that they often tend to automatically think of Officer roles. They urged the Service to do more to promote the breadth of roles across the PSNI, including opportunities for Police Staff.

Local Accountability and Neighbourhood Policing 

Can you tell us whether PSNI engagement at a local District level provides opportunities for the disability sector to voice their views and concerns? How could this be enhanced?

  • There was a sense that Police and communities could be working more closely with Policing and Community Safety Partnerships (PCSPs) to conduct events with the disabled community which could assist in breaking down barriers at a local level. PCSPs are accountable to the Department of Justice and Policing Board.
  • All groups were keen to see PSNI get more involved in the local events that they run but there was a lack of awareness around how to do this. Attention should be drawn to the online directory for Neighbourhood Policing Teams across all Districts which can be accessed on the PSNI website.
  • There was a recognition that the format of the Reference, Engagement and Listening (REaL) Events was beneficial to developing engagement with the disability sector. A request was also made for future events to consider wider membership from across other organisations, including the Department of Justice.


The Strategic Community Engagement Team will endeavour to take forward a number of the points outlined in this summary with further input from the community wherever possible, particularly around awareness raising for accessing Police services. The team would appreciate any further feedback that participants have on this summary of event. We forward to holding another event where organisations will have the opportunity to hold us to account around delivery on these points.