Reported hate crimes increased almost 400 percent from 2012 to 2018, based on a study released by the Seattle Office of City Auditor on May 9. The published study consisted of the second phase of a larger attempt to change how Seattle addresses hate crimes.
Seattle City Councilmember Lisa Herbold requested that the Seattle Office of City Auditor audit Seattle’s responses to hate crimes. The first phase of the audit, published in 2017, focused on the Seattle Police Department usage of hate crime data and attempted to determine leading practices to defeat hate crimes. The second phase, which was released on May 9, instead focused on how hate crimes are currently reported and then prosecuted.
The report defines a hate crime as, “a criminal act, usually involving assault, threat of bodily harm or property damage, that is motivated by bias based on real or perceived characteristics of the victim.” Using this definition, city auditors found that reports of hate crimes have risen in Seattle, from 106 incidents in 2012 to 521 cases in 2018.
The report references studies by the FBI and California State University which show a nationwide trend towards an increase in hate crimes. In fact, the auditor’s report suggests that new focus must be placed on areas with low rates of hate crime reporting to ensure that there is not “rampant underreporting” from those areas. The report calls the jurisdictions with the highest report volume, “leaders in hate crime response efforts.” Even as responses to hate crimes improve, the number of instances of hate crimes will rise. Until the public has the confidence to use hate crime reporting and resolution procedures, the true number of hate crimes in the region cannot be accurately diagnosed and proper attention given to areas that require it.
The report also brought attention to the procedures taken by the SPD to refer a reported hate crime for prosecution. Hate crimes are handled by the Violent Crimes unit in the SPD. Within Violent Crimes is the Bias Crimes Coordinator, whose job is to act as a hate crime resource to other detectives while also managing their own caseload. The BCC also has the power to investigate any hate crime, including ones that have low “solvability factors,” which include the existence of a suspect or physical evidence. If the BCC or any other detective feels as though the facts of a case support conviction, they forward the case for prosecution. About one-third of reported hate crimes are given to prosecutors. The auditor’s report repost suggests that the SPD refers more hate crimes for prosecution than the national average.
Bellevue College is not exempt from hate crimes. The nature of hate crimes, which usually involve encounters between strangers, and the diversity on campus makes BC vulnerable to hate crimes. There are many avenues through which students may alert faculty about bias-related incidents and hate crimes on campus. The offices of Public Safety and Human Resources can both accept reports through the phone, online or in person, and reporters may remain anonymous in many cases. However, identifying incidents is only the first step. To combat and respond to bias-related actions on campus, BC has established the Bias Incident Response and Support Team as part of the Office of Equity and Pluralism.
The BIRST’s job, as stated by their webpage on the BC website, is to, “coordinate the College’s response and act as advocates for persons affected by (bias-related) incidents.” When a bias-related incident occurs on campus, BIRST must assemble a response team within 24 hours. BIRST’s first priority is that any victims receive proper emotional and physical treatment to ensure their well-being as fast as possible. They also oversee report processing, so appropriate investigations are pursued against any suspects. BC understands that the risk of hate crimes occurring is real, and actively attempts to affirm and embrace tolerance on campus.