Members of San Francisco's Coalition on Hate Violence say that California's recently-released hate crime report represents a cause for deep concern, but not for reasons you might expect.
According to "Hate Crime in California 2009," released mid-July by the California Department of Justice, there was a 21.3 percent decrease in hate crime incidents last year, from 1,397 incidents in 2008 to 1,100 in 2009.
But coalition members, who represent a cross-section of law enforcement, constituency groups and non-profits, say this apparent decline may not represent an actual drop in hate crime, but a decrease in the reporting of those crimes. As we described in an earlier blog post, hate crime is often under-reported for a variety of reasons ranging from victim fear or lack of access to law enforcement to untrained or resistant police and district attorneys.
Coalition members looked at the statistics for hate crimes in San Francisco -- 80 reported events in 2008, compared to 29 in 2009 -- and said those numbers don't match what their own organizations are seeing on the ground.
Most people in the group acknowledged that San Francisco devotes more resources to hate crime reporting than many other cities in the country, but District Attorney Victor Hwang, who prosecutes hate crime in the city, said some of the cases he himself prosecuted don't show up in the new statistics. Where is that information falling through the cracks, he wondered?
Several in the room pointed out that lay-offs and budgetary constraints in police departments hampers law enforcement's ability to file and investigate hate crime reports. Similarly, financial cut-backs at non-profits means these groups have fewer staff people to monitor crime or support victims. Community United Against Violence, an advocacy group for LGBT hate crime victims, has had massive lay-offs recently; this affects their ability to be an effective interface between law enforcement and San Francisco's LGBT community.
How can communities address the hate crime reporting gap?
A new idea is emerging from our neighbors to the north. The state of Oregon recently instituted an online reporting system for hate crimes, so victims or witnesses don't have to physically come into police stations physically. The hope is that this will encourage fearful or unwilling victims and witnesses to document incidents more easily.
Is your town or state doing something to make hate crime reporting easier or more effective? Let us know.