Oregon has just made it easier to report hate crimes--do it online.
That's what the Department of Justice came up with after a meeting of the LGBT community in Portland, called in response to gay-bashings in the city.
Sean Riddell (pictured above, on right), chief counsel for the criminal justice division of Oregon’s Department of Justice, was at the meeting, and was “struck by the number of people who said they’d been the victim of a hate crime and didn’t report it,” says Tony Green, Riddell’s colleague and DOJ spokesman.
Why don't people report hate crimes? Fear of retribution; embarrassment; maybe it's too hard to walk into a police station and fill out the forms. There are a lot of reasons; and that concerned the state's attorney general.
A week after the meeting, the DOJ unveiled its new online hate crime reporting form designed to make people feel safer reporting attacks. And if they feel safer, they'll be more likely to report.
Kendall Clawson (pictured above, on left), executive director of the Q Center, which called the meeting, praised the AG’s office for making "such a tangible response to the requests made by the LGBT community.”
“We hope it will make people more comfortable reporting,” says Green. “They might not want to walk into a police station. Now they can do it from their own home.”
The department believes it is the first in the nation to implement such an online reporting mechanism for hate crimes. Some universities have them, including the University of Michigan and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. But very few municipalities or government agencies provide such a resource. One is Orange County, California, via the Orange County Hate Crime Victim Assistance Partnership.
Green notes that the online form is not meant to replace reporting hate attacks to local law enforcement, which requires identifying yourself. That still needs to happen, if the crime is to be prosecuted. But it will help people who have concerns about their safety, and Green says that even anonymous reports can help police pinpoint trouble spots and contribute to better tracking of crime trends in general.
“Just having the total number, the data of what’s going on, will help us have a better understanding,” he says. “Patterns can emerge. If we receive two or three complaints from the community, we could get a sense of what’s going on without identifying anyone.”
Two weeks after the system was implemented, three reports had already been received. Green notes that those attacks had already been reported to law enforcement, but weren’t in the DOJ’s data banks. Having them reported via the online form will make it easier, he says, for the DOJ to offer support to local law enforcement, which is particularly important in smaller jurisdictions.
The DOJ is starting a public outreach campaign, to make Oregonians aware of the online reporting system, and is planning a public forum in John Day, a small town where the Aryan Nation has been looking to buy property, as reported on NIOT.org .
How are hate crimes reported in your community? Would you find online reporting useful?