Sgt. Peter Shields: San Francisco’s Hate Crime Investigator | Not in Our Town

Sgt. Peter Shields: San Francisco’s Hate Crime Investigator

At, we profile leaders in the law enforcement community who are working to make a difference in their towns and schools. This month we profile Sgt. Peter Shields, San Francisco's sole investigator entirely dedicated to hate crimes.

By Brian Krans

San Francisco has been a bastion for gay rights and acceptance, famously charioted by Harvey Milk’s election to the city’s board of supervisors. Yet even 37 years after his assassination, 60 percent of all of San Francisco’s hate crimes are against gay men.

Sgt. Peter ShieldsSgt. Peter Shields of the San Francisco Police Department’s Special Investigation Division is tasked with investigating these and other hate crimes. He says the other common ones include violence against transgendered people and graffiti against whites, blacks, Jews, and other groups.

“When it comes to hate crimes, when you get a victim, it’s a completely different level of pain when they’re attacked for being part of a protected class,” Shields said.

Empathy an Important Part of Investigations

Shields says being gay himself helps him understand what gay victims of hate crimes experience.

“It doesn’t make it any harder. There’s empathy for what the victim is going through,” he said.

One of the most important things an investigator can do, he says, is to take the time and follow-up during different stages of the case.

Explaining what post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is, and that it doesn’t just happen to soldiers of war, can also help a victim cope with what they’re going through. Investigators can also direct victims to resources like therapists or support groups.

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